Minnesota Legislature aims to reduce robocalls

Sen. Rich Draheim, R-Madison Lake, sponsored SF 3210, which seeks to allow the attorney general to sue to recover damages with penalties up to $100,000.

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A divided Minnesota legislature agrees that it wants to crack down on unwanted robocalls.

Two bills were filed in the House and Senate to reduce the more than 41 million robocalls placed to Minnesotans in January of 2020, according to YouMail, an Irvine California-based app that blocks robocalls.

Rep. Zach Stephenson, DFL- Coon Rapids, sponsored HF 3099 in response to the increase in robocalls often used to prey on vulnerable adults, Stephenson wrote in the Star Tribune.

Stephenson called the bill “the nation’s toughest anti-robo-call legislation.”

Minnesota law already prohibits automatic call-dialing without the person’s consent or a live operator requesting consent at the start of the call.

Sen. Rich Draheim, R-Madison Lake, sponsored SF 3210, which seeks to allow the attorney general to sue to recover damages with penalties up to $100,000.

The legislation wouldn’t apply to a subscribed message service from schools or employers.

Stephenson’s legislation would make robocalls illegal and threaten criminal charges from gross misdemeanors to felonies if a robocall results in monetary theft or identity theft.

Of those January robocalls to Minnesota, 46 percent were scams, 25 percent were alerts and reminders, and the rest were payment reminders and telemarketing, according to YouMail.

The problem is that many robocalls use “spoofing” technology that allows telephone calls originating from across the world to appear with a local area code caller ID to make it more likely for the owner to answer the phone.

Once someone answers, the caller often uses fear-based manipulation to try to obtain personal information or voice recordings to access someone’s personal accounts.

A majority of robocalls originate overseas, so it’s unclear how Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison could pursue criminal charges.

Brent Christensen, the president and CEO of the Minnesota Telecom Alliance, told The Center Square that the state legislature’s action was premature because the federal government is already dealing with robocalls.

The U.S. Congress passed the Pallone-Thune Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act,which was signed into law by President Trump in December 2019. The bill aims to regulate robocalls.

“We’ve got to give the federal TRACED Act a chance to work,” Christensen said.

The Federal Communications Commission is using Secure Telephone Identity Revisited (STIR) and Signature-based Handling of Asserted Information Using tokens (SHAKEN) protocols to authenticate caller ID and reduce unwanted robocalls.

“The people that are committing these crimes aren’t within the state of Minnesota or within the State of Minnesota’s grasp,” Christensen said.

Christensen distinguished between good and bad robocalls, such as school closing notices and those trying to steal money.

The two bills aren’t currently scheduled for a hearing as of Tuesday afternoon.