Senate passes anti-robocall bill

The Senate on Thursday voted in favor of legislation that would levy hefty new fines for illegal robocalls, advancing one of the most prominent congressional efforts to crack down on the scourge of billions of unwanted calls that aggravate U.S. consumers every year.

The Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act, which passed by a 97-1 vote, had received more than 80 co-sponsors by the time it reached the Senate floor.

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The bill, introduced by Sens. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSchumer blasts 'red flag' gun legislation as 'ineffective cop out' Lawmakers jump-start talks on privacy bill Trump border fight throws curveball into shutdown prospects MORE (R-S.D.) and Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyJoseph Kennedy mulling primary challenge to Markey in Massachusetts Overnight Energy: Trump sparks new fight over endangered species protections | States sue over repeal of Obama power plant rules | Interior changes rules for ethics watchdogs To cash in on innovation, remove market barriers for advanced energy technologies MORE (D-Mass.), would give the federal government the authority to slap offenders with fines of up to $10,000 per call.

The legislation would also give regulators more time to find scammers, increase penalties for those who are caught, promote call authentication and blocking, and help coordinate enforcement to increase criminal prosecution of illegal robocallers.

Lawmakers during the previous Congress held three hearings and passed 13 bills aimed at curtailing robocalls, but the measure passed by the Senate on Thursday is the most significant piece of legislation to address the issue so far.

"It will make life a lot more difficult for scam artists and help ensure that more scammers face punishment for their crimes," Thune said of the bill on the Senate floor ahead of the vote, noting he hopes the House takes it up soon.

The TRACED Act has received the backing of all 50 state attorneys general, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Federal Trade Commission, a number of industry associations and multiple consumer groups. "This piece of legislation ... will help all Americans deal with the epidemic of robocalls which afflicts them and their families every single day of the year," Markey said on the Senate floor ahead of Thursday's vote.

"This question of robocalls and the role in American society — it's a daily deluge of calls Americans receive," Markey said. "It is a consumer protection crisis. Americans across the country face an epidemic of robocalls, bombarding landlines and mobile phones."

The Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission have said they receive more complaints from consumers about illegal robocalls than anything else every year. Robocalls often come from scammers seeking to steal personal information from consumers, and have particularly targeted vulnerable populations such as senior citizens.

In the House, Rep. Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneLawmakers call on Trump to keep tech legal shield out of trade talks Hillicon Valley: FTC fines Facebook B in privacy settlement | Critics pan settlement as weak | Facebook also faces FTC antitrust probe | Senate panel advances 'deepfakes' legislation | House passes anti-robocall bill House passes anti-robocall bill MORE (D-N.J.), the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, has offered his own bill to end the scourge of robocalls, signaling the lower chamber may follow its own anti-robocall legislative path.

Pallone earlier this year revived the Stopping Bad Robocalls Act, which would allow consumers to opt out of robocalls at any point, ban more kinds of robocalls, require all calls to have caller ID information before they can be put through and lengthen the statute of limitations from one to four years when it comes to punishing those who violate robocall prohibitions.

The FCC, which plays a central role in both bills, has been urging the nation’s telecommunications providers to crack down on illegal robocalls. The commission will vote next month on a proposal to let phone carriers block certain calls by default.