On March 20, 2020, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) affirmed that health care institutions as well as state and local governments may use robocalls to communicate about COVID-19 without running afoul of federal consumer protection and privacy laws. Law360 reports the agency also warned that scammers are trying to use robocalls to sell "bogus cures."
In the article "Robocalls A Weapon For Good And Evil In Coronavirus Fight," the legal industry publication looked to Litigation partner Brad Andreozzi for insight into the FCC's regulatory strategy during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Andreozzi described the "two strands" of the commission's strategy, "one is to promote genuine emergency-purposes communications...and the other is to issue a warning shot across the bow to would-be scammers who are looking to exploit the pandemic."
The commission's declaratory ruling emphasized that a carveout for "emergency" situations under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) applies to "hospitals, health care providers, state and local health officials, and other government officials." Law360 reports that means these parties "may lawfully communicate information about the novel coronavirus as well as mitigation measures, without violating federal law," according to the FCC.
Andreozzi questioned the order's wording and raised that the clarification may raise more questions than answers. For example, it's unclear whether an office building would run afoul of the TCPA's emergency exception if it mass-notified employees that a coworker was infected, Andreozzi said.
"By stating that the protected calls must be from hospitals or other health care providers, government officials, or their agents, did the commission intend to suggest that calls from others would not be considered 'emergency purposes' calls?" Andreozzi noted. "I don't think that conclusion would make sense."
Law360 added that regulators see a hardline stance against illegal robocalls as a way to protect consumers as well as to unburden phone and internet networks under emergency conditions, and both the FCC and telecom carriers are taking steps to ensure networks can hold up under the strain of increased online traffic from Americans working, learning and being entertained exclusively at home.
"The intent of the statute is to make sure that, in a time when people are subject to a state of emergency and need to rely on their phones...that phone lines and telecom capacity is not overburdened," Andreozzi said. "In other states as well, there's going to be a concern that phone capacity not be overtaxed when it's needed most."Read the full article.