Indiana AG fights challenge to robo-call law

Nick Rees Dec. 4, 2009, 4:13pm


INDIANAPOLIS (Legal Newsline) - Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller has urged federal officials not to override Indian's law restricting robo-calls in the face of efforts by a political activist group to invalidate them.

Indiana law has prohibited the use of robo-calls - prerecorded messages placed through auto-dialer technology to thousands of phone customers - since 1988. Following a challenge by political action groups in 2006 to the laws, the Indiana Supreme Court gave the Attorney General's Office the OK to enforce the laws against violators.

"Hoosiers have come to appreciate the peace and quiet that our telephone privacy statutes have returned to their homes," Zoeller said.

"I've been told repeatedly that they detest robo-calls and don't want to receive them. Most consumers don't want pre-recorded phone calls from businesses and they certainly don't want them from political candidates. Indiana's strong Do Not Call law and Auto-Dialer law are nationally respected and my office will resist any attempt by political activists to weaken or undercut them."

Prerecorded phone calls are illegal in Indiana unless permission is obtained from an individual consumer by a live operator or opt-in agreement first.

The America Future Fund Political Action, which advertises on behalf of certain candidates, has asked for the Federal Election Commission to issue an advisory opinion stating that Indiana's robo-call restrictions are superseded or overridden by federal election law. The FEC is considering whether political groups spending money in federal election campaigns are exempt from the state laws limiting or prohibiting robo-calls.

"If AFFPA prevails, any political group that spends money on federal candidates could be exempt from state-level robo-call laws," Zoeller said.

"Candidates and the groups that support them could blast out prerecorded calls with impunity. This effort to erode our protections from robo-calls comes after the Federal Trade Commission recently banned prerecorded sales calls to consumers without their permission, due to greater use of auto-dialer technology by scammers."

In his official response to the FEC, Zoeller has urged the commission to rule against AFFPA and find that the existing federal regulations on campaign spending do not override or preempt state laws limiting robo-calls.

"The notion that a national political group could somehow trump state law merely by spending campaign funds on advertising is disturbing and offensive," Zoeller said. "If that were true, political activists could circumvent local ordinances restricting pamphlet-littering or campaign billboards, just by spending campaign money on their promotion."

Zoeller also said that Indiana's Auto-Dialer law was created to allow candidates to send prerecorded messages to voters who wish to receive them. The robo-calls are legal if a live operator obtains the consumer's permission first or if the consumer opts in to receiving the calls, which is usually done through an email permission form.

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