March 14, 2017

FCC Waives Telephone Privacy Rule in Response to Threats Against Jewish Community Centers

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Caller ID services are a mature technology, so it may be surprising to learn their introduction more than 25years ago triggered fierce privacy debates over maintaining the right to dial anonymously.

Indeed, federal regulators enacted a rule (47 C.F.R. § 64.1601(b)) preserving the right of callers to invoke a “privacy indicator” when placing a call. It’s the familiar *67 code. That code is not merely a phone company feature, it’s the law. When the code is used, telephone service providers are not permitted to pass associated Caller ID information to called parties.

Unfortunately, the privacy indicator is abused, including, it appears, in recent telephone threats against numerous Jewish Community Centers across the US. Abusers may not realize this, but invoking *67 does not keep the originating number a secret; telephone carriers capture this data even when they honor the privacy request.

This reality informs the Federal Communications Commission’s March 3, 2017, Temporary Emergency Waiver Order which grants to Jewish Community Centers and the carriers that serve them a temporary waiver of the suppression requirement.

Under the waiver, a calling party number may be passed to a JCC regardless of a privacy request. The FCC concluded there was good cause to grant the waiver due to a large number of recent bomb threats by telephone.  

The FCC is seeking comments by March 17 on whether to extend this waiver on a more permanent basis.

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