‘Non-Harmful’ Phone Spoofing OK, Appeals Court Says


A federal appeals court is nullifying a Mississippi law that forbids phone spoofing of any type, ruling that Congress has authorized so-called “non-harmful” spoofing.

Spoofing, misrepresenting the originating telephone caller’s identification to the call recipient, was outlawed entirely in Mississippi under the 2010 Caller ID Anti-Spoofing Act (ASA), punishable by up to a year in prison.

The decision (.pdf) is likely a death blow to the eight states that are mulling laws similar to Mississippi’s, as well as Oklahoma and Louisiana, which already have similar statutes on the books, said Mark Del Bianco, the Maryland plaintiff’s attorney in the case.

“It’s almost impossible now for a state to pass a law that would survive judicial scrutiny,” he said.

Del Bianco represented New Jersey-based Teltech Systems and Michigan-based Wonderland Rentals — companies that provide nationwide, third-party spoofing services.

Teltech offers its customers the SpoofCard, which operates like a long-distance calling card with the ability to manipulate the caller ID displayed to the called party. Wonderland uses spoofing to conduct quality control for businesses by faking the phone numbers of its client customers in order to anonymously test customer service representatives.

A lower federal court had sided with the companies, nullifying the law because it impacted communications outside the state. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, however, overturned it because it said the measure was trumped by federal law. The Truth in Caller ID Act (TCIA) of 2009 authorizes spoofing in limited instances, the appeals court ruled.

“There is an inherent federal objective in TCIA to protect non-harmful spoofing. ASA’s proscription of non-harmful spoofing — spoofing done without ‘intent to defraud, cause harm, or wrongfully obtain anything of value’ — frustrates this federal objective and is, therefore, conflict-preempted,” a three-judge panel of the New Orleans-based appeals court has ruled.

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