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.
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.
How to fight back:
If you get these calls, do the following:
Hang up, count to five seconds "(one thousand one, one thousand two", etc.), then go off-hook again to try to get a new dial tone for placing an outgoing call. If you cannot get a new dial tone, i.e. the robocaller is still there, make a note of it. Hanging up and then getting silence on the line is not sufficient: you have to get a new dial tone, and if you don't, that may help prosecute these cases. If you don't get a new dial tone in 5 seconds, hang up again and count off 10 seconds. If that doesn't work, hang up again and count 20 seconds. Everything after 5 or at most 7 seconds is illegal, period. Take careful notes.
Make sure you are getting their caller ID. Almost every caller ID product has a feature that lets you scroll back over incoming calls, so when you answer a call you don't have to write the number down. Your caller ID device will have a record of the date, time, and caller's number. All you need to do is glance at the screen to be sure something is being recorded. After the call is over, go back and write down what is on the screen. You may see "private" or "no data sent" or a weird-looking string of digits such as 111-111-1111 that cannot be an actual telephone number (there will never be a 0 or 1 at the beginning of a legitimate area code or prefix).
If you get a dialable phone number, call it back, and make note of what answers. If you each an automated message, listen to the whole thing and write down any identifying information verbatim. If you want to record these calls, go to Radio Snack, they have home recorder-connectors; it is not illegal to record a call that itself is a recorded voice. (The law requires consent to record (one-party consent in some states, two-party in others); a person who has made a recorded announcement has already given consent in order to make the annuoncement. Thus you can record their recording.)
If a robocall ends up in your voicemail or on your answering machine, save it. Voiceprints can be identified with extraordinary precision so a recording can be used to identify the person's voice, and thus prove the name of the entity for whom they were working, later in the event of legal action. Make a backup copy of the messages by recording it onto audio tape or your hard drive.
Also any time you get a campaign or polling call the first question you should ask is, what organization are you calling from? and then, what is the telephone number of that organization? Write it down. It appears that in some cases, people who have responded to poll questions in certain ways have immediately been put into robocall lists and gotten a bunch of harassing calls in a row. If a live campaign person calls you and does not provide satisfactory information, that fact itself is of interest. Also if the number they give you does not match the caller ID you receive, make note of that. In some cases this is legit: home phone-banks, i.e. people calling from home for an organization. In other cases this may lead to discovering more fraud, i.e. Rs claiming to be from a D organization.
What we need:
Federal regulation (FCC) that simply bans ALL use of predictive dialers, automated dialers, and recorded broadcast messages except as used by public safety agencies (for example to call residents of an area to order an evacuation, as for example in a hazmat incident). There is no other legitimate use of these machines, and telemarketers wishing to cut costs should have no standing. Once this regulation is in effect, all telemarketers will face the level playing field of having the same cost structure, so it will not place some at a competitive advantage over others.
I'll provide free consultation
On this and other telephony-related issues for any legitimate Democratic party organization or related entity. I've also successfully done expert witness on a telecom-related case. If you represent an organization that has been affected by these robo-calls, i.e. a Congressional campaign or whatever, and you want to get in touch, post an email address or phone number where you can be reached. I'll be able to return calls this evening (Sunday evening) and between 1pm and 6pm on Monday.
Something else you can do: FIRST THING MONDAY morning: Call your local Telco business office and subscribe to the Call Trace feature. This will cost you about $5 per month but it will capture calls that do not show on Caller ID, and turn the number over to Telco Security for investigation. You have to agree to press charges. You might also have to file a police report before they will turn on the feature. Police departments in progressie jurisdictions may be more amenable to this than in hardcore R jurisdictions.
In SBC/AT&T areas in California, residential business office is 1-800-288-2020, and for business subscribers, 1-800-750-BELL (BELL = 2355 on your dial). If you're not sure, dial 0 for Operator and ask for the number.
How it works: You receive a harassing call. You hang up, and then before the phone rings again, you pick up, listen for dialtone, and dial a specific feature code that your telco will provide for you. This causes the telco central office to immediately trace the correct originating number for the call. Then you file a police report on harassing calls, and this enables Telco Security to provide the phone number to the police for further action.
The reason you have to do this first thing Monday, is because it may take the telco all day to set it up, and you want to have it working for evening and overnight calls. And you can be sure there will be plenty of robocalls overnight before Election Day, to sleep-deprive voters as well as piss them off, which will cause some to miss going to the poll and others to make voting errors or change their votes.
However: DON'T let the Republican dirty-trick machine scare you. The only thing to fear is fear itself, not the fear-mongers. DO resolve to win regardless! The Rs are clearly desperate. We have them on the run. We are going to take back Congress, and then let the investigations begin!
FCC rules posted:
A+ Excellent summary of the relevant FCC rules in a posting by Juppon Gatana, the header is "These Calls Constitute MULTIPLE FCC VIOLATIONS", you can put that in a local text search on your browser, and your browser will take you right to it. I'd post a bunch of it here except this diary is getting too long as it is:-)
Educate your local prosecutor!
Lawyers & law students needed here. Call your local DA, and whatever other prosecuting attorneys exist at the county and state level, and educate them about this issue. They will be called upon to begin the prosection of these cases. They need to understand that these are not just low-level annoyance calls, they are a coordinated national campaign. They need to understand that this deserves priority as much as if it was someone overtly stealing an election. If we can get them on-side with this, the indictments will roll in scores of jurisdictions, and the Rs will have to face charges in places where they will get the book thrown at them.
How to reach your neighbors if need be:
Get a bullhorn and get in your car and drive through the district at a reasonable hour, broadcasting a message. Note, you want to have someone who has a good clear voice that sounds calm and not screechy or shouty. Female voices are more intelligible on telephones and cheap PA systems than male voices, but a good clear male voice is OK too.
Make the message simple: "Attention voters: If you have received automated telephone calls saying they are about (candidate name), those are not from (his/her) office. They are a Republican dirty trick designed to make you angry and get you to switch your vote out of spite. Do not fall for this. These calls are a nationwide dirty trick. For more information go to (URL) or call (phone number)."
Also write a letter to your neighbors, make a bunch of xerox copies, and stick it under each of their doors, for example:
"Dear neighbor. My name is (name) and I've lived in the neighborhood for (however many) years. I'm writing to alert you to a dirty trick that is being used to accect the elections. If you have received automated telephone calls saying they are about (candidate name), those are not from (his/her) office. They are a Republican dirty trick designed to make you angry and get you to switch your vote out of spite. Do not fall for this. These calls are a nationwide dirty trick. For more information go to (URL) or call (phone number). For more news on this, go to the following newspaper, radio, and TV station web sites: (list URLs). And be sure to tell your friends and family about this. Don't let the dirty-tricksters fool you. Thanks (signed, name)."
A huge list of media contacts can be found at Timroff's diary, at:
If you have additional media contacts, post a comment in this diary, put the words "media contacts" in your subject header, and then people can use the search function on their browsers to find all comments with "media contacts" in the headers.
It would appear that we have a probable suspect. We do not have conclusive proof that this is the perpetrator. However, attorneys, journalists, etc. are urged to investigate further. If you want to call these people and tell them what you think, keep in mind that you may reach a secretary who is only an employee and has no power, so be polite, don't use cusswords or other bad language, and keep your message concise and to the point.
Credit to sbwoodside for this information, via diary at:
Quoted from sbwoodside's diary:
Could be Conquest Communications Group, of Richmond, Va. according to several news stories (e.g. LINK one, LINK) based on FEC filings. Communications Group: 2812 Emerywood Parkway, Suite 103, Richmond, Virginia 23294. - PHONE (804) 358-0560 - FAX (804) 213-0797
Victor A. Gresham (founding partner) David S. Johnson (founding partner) (used to work for NRCC) Winfree W. Chewning, Jr. (SVP) Broc B. Johnson (Sr. Account Rep.)
Contact your Attorney General: list at www.NAAG.org. INCLUDES PARTY AFFILIATION.
==Update 5 (Monday):==
Timroff's revised media contacts list is here:
Update 6: Monday 6 November
Help needed: The media are interested in this. If you know of anyone in New York who has saved a voicemail or answering machine recording of one or more of these calls, please contact Debra via the information below. She also has the diary that's presently at the top of the Recommended list.
Been Harassed? Email me (address below) Just got off the phone with the New York State head of the DNC's official lawyers committee. She has local and national reporters who are EAGER to speak to voters who have been harassed by repetitive robocalls. We need to put some meat on the bones of this story.
If you have been called repeatedly please contact me. If you have recorded these calls even better because then it might be covered by the TV media, not just the print media. They want to speak to New York State voters only for this story.
I am the conduit for this. My email is email@example.com
Here is the link to Debra's diary:
---ALSO: Re. voicemail and answering machine recordings of robocalls---
Apparently some cases are being reported where robocall messages are recorded on answering machines or voicemail, and are either cut off early in the message, or have the long pauses missing from the recording.
This is an artifact of the voicemail or answering system. In some cases these systems are sound activated, i.e. they only record when audio is present. In some cases, they are programmed to stop recording and release the line when a pause of sufficient length occurs. We are interested in both types of cases, as well as cases where a recording does capture the long pauses. Of course recordings that include the long pauses are of greatest interest, but any recording is better than none.
IF YOU HAVE any recordings at all, of these robocall messages, get in touch with Debra via her email address above, and post something to her diary saying you emailed her. (In the event she gets deluged with emails and her inbox overflows, we want to be sure she can cross-check against the replies to her diary.)
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