WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court unanimously sided with social media giant Facebook on Thursday in a case that questioned whether the company’s automated text alerts violated the nation’s 30-year-old ban on robocalls.
Congress approved the Telephone Consumer Protection Act in 1991 to restrict telemarketing. The law, signed by President George H.W. Bush in the era of dial-up internet, regulated devices that could store and dial telephone numbers.
But the Supreme Court, in an opinion written by Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, overruled the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit and ruled that an “automatic telephone dialing system” has the capacity to “store or produce telephone number to be called, using a random or sequential generator,” and to dial those numbers.
“Congress’ chosen definition of an autodialer requires that the equipment in question must use a random or sequential number generator,” Sotomayor wrote in the 12-page opinion. “That definition excludes equipment like Facebook’s login notification system, which does not use such technology.”
Associate Justice Samuel Alito concurred with a separate opinion.
The suit was initially filed in 2015 by a non-Facebook user who began receiving security alert texts even though he didn’t have an account on the platform. Those texts, Noah Duguid argued, violated the law’s prohibitions on auto-dialing. The California-based 9th Circuit sided with Duguid in 2019, and Facebook appealed to the Supreme Court.
Facebook ban: Australia and social media platform agree to lift Australian news ban
The case turned in part on how to read the language in the law. The text of the statute defines robocall equipment as being able to “to store or produce telephone numbers to be called, using a random or sequential number generator” and “to dial such numbers.” Some lower courts had ruled that devices that are able to store numbers – even without random number generation – are covered under the law.
But Facebook countered that more than 260 million Americans who carry cell phones technically are operating a device that fits that broad definition. Smartphones store numbers and also have the capacity to dial those numbers automatically, such as through the use of voice-activated programs like Apple’s Siri. In other words, one of the nation’s leading technology companies argued the law was hopelessly out of date.
“The Ninth Circuit’s interpretation,” Facebook said, “renders unlawful virtually every wrong number called from the contacts list of any smartphone in the United States.”
The case comes to the court at a time when Facebook and other mega tech firms are facing pressure from Congress over their role in the 2016 election, when Russian trolls used ads on the networks to spread disinformation. Facebook announced in September that it would not accept new political ads in the days ahead of the November election.
After the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, Facebook announced that the company would “indefinitely” block former President Donald Trump from its platforms. That move drew fire from conservatives who say the company is stifling GOP points of view.
Source: Read Full Article