December 2, 2020 — Issue Brief

Unwanted robocalls invade the privacy of Americans, diminish the usefulness of cell phones, and can threaten public safety. Yet Facebook wants the U.S. Supreme Court, in Facebook v Duguid, to so narrowly define prohibitions on calls made to cell phones with an automated telephone dialing system (autodialer) that it would nullify Congress’ efforts to protect consumers from a flood of unwanted autodialed calls.

By enacting the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) in 1991, Congress demonstrated its intent to protect consumers, businesses, and telecommunications systems from unwanted and intrusive calls. The linchpin of the TCPA is the prior consent requirement. Congress specifically intended to safeguard Americans from abusive calls by permitting autodialed calls to cell phones, hospital emergency lines, and other protected lines only when the receiving party has expressly consented to the automated calls (except in cases of emergency)—giving the people being called control over their phones.

But if the Court rules as the robocallers urge, all Americans could end up like Bill Dominguez, who tried to stop the flood of text messages from Yahoo, repeatedly replying “stop” and “help” to no avail. By the time Mr. Dominguez filed a TCPA lawsuit to stop the texts, he had received 27,809 unwanted text messages from Yahoo. If there is no requirement for consent to the automated calls and texts, there is no right to revoke consent and thus no right to stop the autodialed calls and texts. People in the following demographics will be among those most susceptible to unrelenting robocalls and texts from the more common sources.