Controlling mass calls important

In the weeks and months ahead, many — if not most — Pennsylvania telephone customers could be asking “What’s not to like?” about legislation in the state House of Representatives aimed at protecting them from falsified caller identification displays that oftentimes “greet” them when their telephone starts ringing.

On Jan. 23, the House Judiciary Committee approved the moving-forward of the legislation — House Bill 979 — which would make it illegal for people to use specialized equipment to change the caller identification information displayed on call recipients’ telephones.

But there’s another important aspect of what’s referred to as the “spoofing” issue that needs to be dealt with as well: beefing up ways and technology to identify those responsible for such calls.

If a successful crackdown on the perpetrators isn’t possible, or can be achieved only in rare, isolated instances, the legislation could end up as another example of a remedy lacking bite — some people would say, “toothless.”

Not only is the falsification in question annoying to most people, it also makes people suspicious of legitimate, well-meaning calls emanating from honest businesses and individuals.

And, for people who significantly lower the volume of — or shut off — their phones’ ringers amid their frustration over receiving calls from people or entities disguising their true identity, the prospect of not knowing that a call dealing with an emergency or something else important is being received increases the prospects of missing the call, and regretting that the call was missed.

The situation also is hurting those who provide telephone service; some former customers say the reason they canceled their landline phone service was because of having become fed up with being inundated with such devious, despicable calls disrupting meals or many other aspects of their home life.

About HB 979, House Judiciary Committee Majority Chairman Ron Marsico, R-Dauphin, said, “We are hearing about hundreds of Pennsylvania residents who are being contacted by deceptive people that, through the use of spoofing equipment, are able to pretend to be a local bank. They then ask whoever answers the phone for account details and other financial information. They are stealing information from innocent people and causing real damage to their lives.”

The proposed legislation would amend current law by adding a misdemeanor-level offense of false caller identification information display. The measure stipulates a $2,500 fine and up to one year in prison for a first offense, and a $5,000 fine and up to two years in prison for second or subsequent offenses.

The measure does not apply to blocking of caller identification information tied to law enforcement, or to intelligence and security agencies.

But again, if the proposal becomes law, the big and difficult challenge will be apprehending the culprits responsible for such calls; probably no one has compiled a reliable estimate of how many big-volume spoofers might be “out there.”

Still, this effort should be allowed to move forward.

People paying for telephone service shouldn’t be exposed to such annoyance, harassment or fears that many times put their sensitive or confidential information at risk.