Criminalizing Prank Calls

-Submitted by David Drumm (Nal), Guest Blogger

Recently, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was the recipient of an embarrassing prank call from a blogger Ian Murphy posing as Republican billionaire David Koch. Instead of waiting until the incident blew over, two Republican Wisconsin legislators have decided now’s the time to reintroduce legislation that would make the prank call illegal.

Sen. Mary Lazich, R-Waukesha, and Rep. Mark Honadel, R-Milwaukee, are reintroducing a bill that would:

[forbid] a caller from intentionally providing a false phone number and convincing the person receiving the call that it comes from someone other than the actual caller.

According to a spokesman for Honadel,

It would also prohibit individuals from masking their voices or providing a fake phone number to the call recipient.

A violator would be subject to a fine from $1000 to $10,000 per call.

The bill would make it illegal to defraud, cause harm or wrongfully obtain any information of value from using caller ID spoofing. I suspect it’s already illegal to defraud someone in Wisconsin, and causing harm is vague.

The Wisconsin law goes further than the federal law. On December 22, 2010, President Obama signed into law the Truth in Caller ID Act, which makes it  illegal “to cause any caller ID service to transmit misleading or inaccurate caller ID information, with the intent to defraud or deceive.”

With the advent of caller ID, it’s become harder to accomplish the prank call. Calling cards, which transmit the caller ID of the card company, if used for prank calls, may run the prankster afoul of this law.

Prankster Ian Murphy called Walker’s office using Skype not a spoofing service.

H/T: TPM, The Badger Herald.

19 thoughts on “Criminalizing Prank Calls”

  1. pete,

    Lol – excellent post!


    Hello? Is Mike Hunt there??

  2. I found a summary that seems to say law enforcement is excluded.

    “Declares that this Act does not prohibit any lawfully authorized investigative, protective, or intelligence activity of a law enforcement agency of the United States, a state, or a state’s political subdivision, or of a U.S. intelligence agency”

    I see this as hurting Private Investigators more and it makes it harder to uncover corrupt activity from law enforcement.

  3. I’ll have to research this bill but I bet it won’t affect law enforcement. I know that the their message centers do things like the spoofing services do.

  4. Walker and his cabal are some of the nastiest and craziest right wing radicals that we have seen in a long time. Did he live in Arizona before Wisconsin??

  5. Prank calls have for a long time provided a creative medium for both children and comedians alike. Nearly all children at some point during their adolescence make a prank call. Radio hosts, TV shows and professional prank callers (e.g. Longmont Potion Castle) have provided hours of entertainment for the public. There simply does not appear to be a reason to criminalize harmless, good-natured prank calling so long as it doesn’t cross into harassment.

    Misleading and defrauding people on the phone in order to make a profit or obtain business information is dissimilar, and regulation of this type of calling is not offensive to me.

    Also, there seems to be a privacy issue involved. Generally people are called in their homes. Is using fraud to contact people at home, where they have an expectation of privacy, OK and thus regulation is not a 1st amendment violation, or is having a phone consent to contact by anyone for any reason or is it somewhere in between?

  6. Alternately, you could not consider putting agent provocateurs in crowds protesting your policies. Then you wouldn’t have to worry about slipping up and admitting to it.

  7. R-

    Actually it is just budget bills they don’t have a quorum for. They can pass crap like this all they want. It would be interesting to see if it really affected anything as even $10 would be cheap for a good story.

  8. rcampbell,

    That I think I knew…. I think the biggest group that is going to be against it is going to be the Debt Collectors….. unless it is worded in such away that they are somehow expected….such as in the course of commerce…. while most states and the FDCPA make it against the law to make crank calls they do until they reach someone…. and if that person is not the one they are seeking then they keep calling…. I have often advised clients to state to the creditor or collector that they have made the contact for the day…advise them not to call back and then say good bye and hang up…. to also keep a detailed log of all of the calls that they receive….even family calls….

  9. AY

    Remember, nothing passes the WI Senate unless and until there’s a quorum, which hopefully will not be until after three of the GOP thugs are recalled.

  10. I heard somewhere, I don’t recall exactly where, that Mr. Murphy may have violated New York’s criminal code. Question: is it fair to call what Mr. Murphy did a “prank?

  11. How about the one that says…Did you park you vehicle in the street last night….well….I am sorry to inform you that it was hit…. or are you the registered owner of a certain vehicle…I am detective so and so from the local police department and we need you to come down to the station and talk to us about such and such….

    Or Calling someone, leaving a message from Mr. Lyons and ask that they call asap as possible and give them the local zoo’s number….

  12. Ah yes, Prince Albert in a can. And by the way, is your refrigerator running? Memories…

  13. Well, I am sure it will pass….so everyone call the Governor and call often…..

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