State AGs get tough on robocalls

A group of 51 state attorneys general and 12 phone companies on Thursday announced a sweeping effort to combat the scourge of illegal robocalls dialing up millions of U.S. customers every year.

The set of anti-robocall principles and practices, unveiled at a press conference in Washington, D.C., would require the phone companies to take steps towards preventing the spam calls and work in tandem with law enforcement to take down illegal robocalling operations.

“Illegal robocalls harass and harm people all across this country,” said North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein (D) during the conference. “By adopting these technological solutions and improving their cooperation with law enforcement, these phone companies are going to better serve their customers.”

The details: Under the deal between industry groups and the government, which is over a year and a half in the making, the companies – including AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and Comcast – have agreed to implement call-blocking technology at no extra cost to customers, and offer their customers a range of “free, easy-to-use call blocking and labeling tools.”

Many of the companies involved in the agreement had already agreed to implement the call authentication technology, referred to as “STIR/SHAKEN.”

The phone companies agreed to a set of eight principles to cut down on the billions of illegal robocalls in the U.S. annually. The principles include a commitment to cooperate with law enforcement in investigations of illegal robocallers – which often operate overseas – as well as to confirm the identity of any new customers by collecting information on their business location, federal tax ID, and more.

The principles do not come with a timeline or specific enforcement mechanisms.

A long road: Stein said it took “extensive” negotiations to come to a private-public agreement, noting it was not all received “enthusiastically.”

“In terms of whether the companies don’t live up to it, we have ways other than going to court to encourage their ongoing cooperation,” he said.