Desperate Republicans across the country are using robo-calls (automated dialing systems that play recorded messages) to harass voters. Your phone rings, there's a brief recorded intro that makes it appear the call is from a Democratic campaign or related group, and then a pause, and then a recorded message. If you hang up it calls you back six or seven times or more. The goal is to make people think they are being harassed by the Democrats, and piss them off enough to change their votes. It works well enough to potentially flip some close races.
This is clearly illegal under some statutes & regulations, arguably illegal under others. It appears to be going on across the US, using the same format and methods. If we pursue this nationally, we could bankrupt the GOP.
I'm a PBX engineer (design & program commercial telephone systems), with over 20 years in the industry. Here's what you need to know, and how we can fight back.
- G2geek's diary :: ::
This is a slightly expanded version of a posting I made in Kos' diary about this issue.
FCC regulations: automated callers must hang up when the called party hangs up.
This became an issue after robo-caller systems were preventing people calling 911 in emergencies. In some cases people died because they could not hang up and get a dialtone because the robocaller would not let go of them.
(Tech background: telco central office switches have traditionally been configured in such a manner that the calling party controls the connection. The called party has to hang up for between 7 - 10 seconds in order to force the line to disengage. More recently there have been design changes that minimize this issue, but it is not completely gone. The goal is that you should always be able to get a new dialtone by hanging up your phone for 1.5 seconds, whether you are the caller or the called party.)
As a result of the 911 emergency call cases, FCC required that these automated calling systems hang up when the called party hangs up, so the called party can get dial tone back and make an outgoing call.
It would appear that the dirty tricksters have found a way to circumvent the law by having the system release the line on each call but then keep calling back. HOWEVER:
In many states the definition of "obscene, indecent, or harassing phone calls" includes placing repeated calls to a subscriber who does not wish to be called. This activity obviously qualifies under those statutes; typically the violation is a misdemeanor with a penalty of up to 1 year in prison or a $1,000 fine. It can be argued that the penalty should apply per call or per called subscriber, in any case this adds up to a potentially very large number of counts of that misdemeanor, which could bankrupt the GOP. Think of hundreds of thousands of calls, at a $1,000 fine each.
It can be argued that the repeat calling also violates the intent of the "release the line" regulations because if a called subscriber has the Call Waiting feature, the additional incoming calls will trigger call waiting signals, which interrupt conversation briefly each time the little "beep" sounds on the line, thereby interfering with the life-or-death conversations of emergency calls. For example, "He's having a (beep!) attack!" Was that a heart attack, an epileptic attack, angina, a stroke ("brain attack") or something else? This angle is at least worth pursuing, and if nothing else, the R's attorneys will have to respond to it if it's raised as part of a civil action.
Misrepesentation! Are they using suppressed or fake caller ID?
One of the most common technologies available to business subscribers, "PRI service," allows a company to set its own outgoing caller ID. Normally this is done to enable a company's PBX to provide up-to-date accurate caller ID for all the outgoing calls from various departments and extensions in the company. For example showing the main corporate number as 555-1000, and the Customer Service department as 555-1200, and each DID number for each person in the company who needs to be direct-dialable from outside (e.g. sales reps in a conventional sales department, etc.).
However, it is also possible to set any outgoing caller ID number you choose, and most interestingly, the telco switch searches its database to attach the listed name to that number. For example, I could dial into one of my clients' PBX systems right now, and change their outbound caller ID to 202-456-4141. Then when you received a call from a designated extension on that system, you would see that phone number on your display, AND the name "The White House," since (if I remember correctly) that is the listed number for the White House public comments line. _ The point here is, if the Rs or their telemarketing agents have set their outbound caller ID to something other than their correct telephone number, it may be possible to prosecute them for fraud or misrepresentation._
Potential for generic fraud charges:
What we need is someone who will testify that they changed their vote as a result of these calls, and then subsequently learned that they had been deceived and feel that they have been cheated of their vote. To my mind (I am not a lawyer), that constitutes fraud. The more such people, the stronger the case. If this is going on across the country, it could be raised as a Federal RICO case. At minimum it should become the subject of a Congressional investigation after we take back the House.