New Jersey high school student Timothy Catron has been awarded Lemberg Law’s 2016 $1,000 “Stop Cell Phone Robocalls” Scholarship. Timothy plans to attend Arizona State University in the fall. Hundreds of applicants submitted short answers to the prompt, “Cell phone robocalls need to be regulated because…” and was selected as one of ten finalists to write an essay. Here is his winning essay:
Eight o’clock at night, I am relaxing at home when my cell phone rings. I jump to answer it. Earlier that day I had given my cell phone number to the cutest girl in my physics class so we can work on our group project. The call has to be from her. Who else could it be? I pick up the phone only to hear a fog horn followed by a mechanical voice stating, “You have just won a cruise to the Bahamas!” I hang up in disgust, annoyed by the interruption. I hate robocalls! Who wants to talk to a machine? After I calm down, I realize that my privacy was violated. How did they get my private cell phone number? I didn’t give it to them! Unwanted callers do not have the right to call my cell phone number. Cell phone robocalls need to be regulated.
After that call, I wondered if my cell phone number was really private. Through my parents, we have a contract with a cellular provider and which is paid on a monthly basis, giving me access to cellular service, including data, texts and calls. I feel that my cell number is legally shared with me, my parents (because they have the cellular contract) and the cellular provider. I own my cell phone. It is not leased, so there is no other party who is involved with me and my cell phone. I have chosen to share my cell phone number with some friends, my school and some doctors. Although schools and doctors are required to keep my personal information private, I have to trust my friends to keep my cell phone private. Barring someone calling a wrong number and reaching me, I feel my number is truly personal and private.
Originally, telemarketers used people to call individual phone lines and the amount of people they reached was limited. Telemarketer technologies improved. Robocalls are a way that telemarketers are able to make millions of calls a day via computers, to both landlines and cell phones. The United States government has tried to limit these calls by enacting the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) which makes it illegal for robocalls to call cell phone numbers and allows for fines from $500-$1500 per unwanted call. Despite the TCPA, 68%* of cell phone owners report receiving robocalls. Some of these robocalls to cell phones might be wrong numbers or legitimate companies not knowing they are reaching cell phones. I believe the larger number of cell phone robocalls to be from illegal operations, scammers and people trying to get money from you. Some of these calls originate from outside the United States and outside the reaches of our laws. Stronger regulations need to be enacted to protect all cell phone owners from these robocalls.
Looking back on that robocall, I wonder if the robocaller knew they had reached the cell phone of a high school senior with very little money to his name. However, that is not the point. They didn’t have the right to call me. Like my Social Security Number and Driver’s License Number, my cell phone number is and should remain sensitive private information. Only certain entities should be allowed access to them by law with serious penalties for infractions. Until there are better laws in place and better enforcement of these laws, robocalls will continue to invade our privacy.
*ABC news report aired July 30, 2014