FCC allows for automated calls and text messages for data breach notifications

The Federal Communications Commission clarified wording on the Telephone Consumer Protection Act to allow financial institutions to send out automated data breach and fraud alerts.
The Federal Communications Commission clarified wording on the Telephone Consumer Protection Act to allow financial institutions to send out automated data breach and fraud alerts.

Although the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) requires consumers to provide consent before receiving non-emergency robocalls on their wireless phones, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has clarified the act's ramifications to allow for automated data breach notifications.

Robocalls either use a pre-recorded or artificial voice or are made through autodial technology, the FCC wrote on its consumer help webpage. The same consent requirement applies to text messages, as well.

The American Bankers Association (ABA) issued a petition in October 2014 requesting that financial institutions, in particular, be exempt from the prior consent robocalling clause when it comes to data breach notifications, automated fraud and identity theft alerts, remediation messages and money transfer notices.

“A single financial institution might be responsible for 50,000 to 60,000 or more potential data security breach notification per month,” the petition states.

With so many callers being contacted for data breaches, the ABA writes that it presents a “substantial risk of legal liability because of potential class-action plaintiffs' claims that those consents are inadequate.”

On Thursday, the FCC voiced its agreement with the ABA and offered an exception for these types of notifications, in addition to important healthcare reminders. The calls or texts must be free, the FCC ruled, and they must allow consumers to say “stop” at any point.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler wrote in his comments on the ruling: “We interpret the TCPA in a commonsense way that benefits both callers and consumers. Exhibit A is that we clear the way for time-sensitive calls about consumer healthcare and bank accounts, so that consumers can get the information as quickly as possible.”

Because the calls have conditions on the number of times they can be made, and because they come with an opt-out option, Wheeler believes both “consumers and businesses can win under the TCPA.”

Not all FCC commissioners agreed with Wheeler, however.

Despite the good-natured rhetoric that the ABA puts forth, wrote Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, “the result is obvious — consumers can expect to receive more robocalls from healthcare providers and banking institutions.”

Rosenworcel said that because she believes in fewer robocalls, “on this aspect of today's decision I dissent.”

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