Supreme Court Weakens Autodialer Protections
April 1, 2021
Today, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Facebook v. Duguid that individuals can only claim protection under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act from unwanted calls made using a mass dialing system or "autodialer" if the system uses a random or sequential number generator to either store or produce the numbers called. EPIC filed an amicus brief urging the Court to interpret the autodialer restriction broadly to include systems that automatically dial numbers stored in lists or databases. EPIC argued that "narrowing the autodialer definition would not protect privacy" but would instead "put the most widely used mass dialing systems outside the scope" of the ban.
Many robocallers and would-be robocallers will interpret the Court’s decision today as essentially abrogating the autodialer restriction, which will likely lead to a surge in unwanted automated calls to cell phones. Automated calls are already a daily nuisance for Americans. Individuals increasingly ignore calls from unknown numbers because they assume the calls are robocalls, which has caused particular harm to contact tracing during COVID-19. Congress must update the autodialer restriction to protect Americans from the coming onslaught of unwanted automated calls.
But the Court’s decision today is not a total victory for robocallers. The decision does not limit the definition of an autodialer to systems that create random or sequential telephone numbers. The Court says that autodialers include systems that use random or sequential number generators to order numbers in a list. Because computer programs commonly use sequential number generators to store or pull information from a list, it is hard to think of a mass dialing system that would not use a sequential number generator at some point in the program.
Litigation will continue over the scope of the autodialer definition. Americans need protection from robocallers now, and Congress should act swiftly to update the autodialer restriction.