An Occasional Silver Lining: HR 423, The Anti-Spoofing Act of 2017

One thing I want to be sure not to do with this space is lead myself (or any of you) to become hopelessly cynical. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of crap coming down the Congressional pipeline. Part of why I’m putting myself through these paces is because the amount will be staggering, and we need to stay on top of it all. As I’ve said, Congress isn’t a simulation – the things they do are real, they will have real-world consequences. But sometimes we get so focused on three or four major pieces of legislation that we miss some of the more mundane, but still meaningful actions our government takes.

So, as a palate cleanser, I wanted to get into a pice of legislation that passed the House today: H.R. 423, the Anti-Spoofing Act of 2017. It was put forth by Rep. Grace Meng, a fairly anonymous, middle-of-the-pack Queens Democrat. On introduction, Meng explained her reasoning:

The purpose of caller ID is to know the identity of the person who is calling or texting you. But all too often, the name and number that is displayed is not the actual name and number of the caller or texter. Unfortunately, it’s often some telemarketers attempting to pull a fast one or con artists trying to rip off unsuspecting recipients, especially seniors. It’s time to finally stop this outrageous and deceitful practice.

The law is fairly straightforward.

You know how your mom has the Caller ID that shows up on the television, and they don’t recognize the number and assume it’s a telemarketer, so they yell at your dad not to answer it, but he does anyway, and sure enough, it’s a telemarketer? Well, telemarketing firms know that’s what happens, so what they will do is “spoof” their numbers, make them look like they’re coming from a well-known company, or even a hospital or bank in order to trick people into answering. It’s the phone-call equivalent of mail solicitations that say “urgent” on the front – a way to trick people into talking with someone they don’t want to talk with.

Now, there is already legislation on the books – the Truth in Caller ID Act of 2009 – that makes it illegal to spoof your number if it was a strictly domestic call. H.R. 423 expands that to include more modern means of spoofing – text messaging, calls placed from tablets or computers – and also covers calls made internationally.

We live in an age where all of us, especially certain population demographics (Meng called them “seniors,” I call them “people my parent’s age”) have trouble distinguishing between real news sources, legitimate pieces of information, and yes, reputable services. It’s become sadly important for the government to take a role in protecting people from disreputable operators. And the House of Representatives seems to agree. The legislation passed overwhelmingly, 382-5. All five nay votes were from Republicans – Raul Labrador of Idaho, Thomas Massie of Kentucky, Justin Amash of Michigan, Jim Jordan of Ohio, and Louie Gohmert of Texas.

The bill now moves on to the Senate, where Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) is the chief sponsor. It enjoys bipartisan support. Even so, PredictGov gives it only a 1% chance of passage. As with the other bill I’ve written up here, similar bills have passed the House in the previous two sessions, only to fail to make it past this point. As always, I’ll update this space as events warrant.

 

 

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