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U.S. Court of Appeals Says We Have a Right to Stop Robocalling
It’s about time somebody put an end to robocalling. Cell phones seemed safe, after all, as compared to landlines, but up till now legislation has said that if you ever sign up and give a company permission to call you, you can’t turn it off. That, at least, was the district court’s ruling until the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed the ruling, in light of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act and rules from the Federal Communications Commission and common-law treatment of what counts as consent.
The judges decided that once you consent to be called, you have the right to change your mind, and there is no time limit on when this decision can be made.
Such legislation was sought incidentally by Ashley Gager, who signed up for a line of credit with Dell Financial Services, but when she failed to keep up on payments, was flooded with automated phone calls reminding her of her debt. Though she sent a letter to the company requesting they cease calling her, they refused.
At the time, the trial court in the Middle District of Pennsylvania decided that TCPA didn’t include a right for people to revoke consent, and so Gager’s letter carried no weight. The Third Circuit disagreed with this ruling.
As Law.com reported, Senior Judge Jane Roth said, “Although the TCPA does not expressly grant a right of revocation to consumers who no longer wish to be contacted on their cellular phones by autodialing systems, the absence of an express statutory grant of this right does not mean that the right to revoke does not exist.”
She explained: “First, our understanding of the common-law concept of consent shows that it is revocable. Second, in light of the TCPA’s purpose, any silence in the statute as to the right of revocation should be construed in favor of consumers. Finally, the FCC’s decision in SoundBite provides further evidence that we have reached the correct result in this case.” SoundBite is the FCC’s declaratory ruling made in November.
This, at least, is a relief, considering that Gager’s attorney, Cary Flitter, had asked what could make the calls stop, and was answered death or bankruptcy. The paucity of options at ending those damned calls sounds as bare and grim as the traditional unaviodables of life “death and taxes.”
Flatter also noted that “It’s not an overstatement to say hundreds of millions of these robocalls are being made,” and of course, must of us would like to see them stopped. It’s one thing to have your doctor’s office call you and hear the machine say that you have an appointment the next day, don’t forget. Quite another to by stalked by a machine, like a sci fi movie, for owing debts.