The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is moving to prevent robocallers calling 9-1-1 call centers and proposed a rule to fulfill a requirement from a 2012 law to create a public Do-Not-Call list for Public Safety Access Points (PSAPs).

Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said the rule would put the onus on voice service providers to block robocalls from making their way to 9-1-1 call centers.

“Robocalls that interrupt your family dinner are annoying. But robocalls that get in the way of your ability to call 911 – that’s a whole other level – because they could be fatal,” Rosenworcel said in a statement.

The FCC was initially directed to create such a list when Congress passed the 2012 Tax Relief Act. Originally the idea was for a system to work by placing all the PSAPs on a Do-Not-Call list and any robocall centers or telemarketers would have to check the list. But Rosenworcel said there were some issues with how that would be implemented, and how to then keep that list secure.

“Once you’ve put all of those numbers in one place, how do you make sure the list stays secure? A bad actor with access to the list could flood a 911 call center with automatically-dialed robocalls and cut off access to essential public safety systems,” Rosenworcel explained. “In other words, in an effort to eliminate the threat of autodialed robocalls to public safety answering points could we inadvertently create a new security threat?”

The FCC is seeking comment on the proposed rule for the next 30 days, and wants to see the extent to which robocalls and automated texts are still a problem for PSAPs, and how the issue has changed since 2012. The FCC will respond to any public comments within 45 days.

“Every day, Public Safety Answering Points offer millions of Americans support and assistance in moments of crisis,” FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks said in a statement. “These are precious seconds, and we cannot have PSAP phone lines tied up by robocalls. Because protecting PSAP operations from unwanted and unlawful robocalls is essential, I am pleased to approve today’s Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and begin the process of updating the Commission’s approach.”

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Lamar Johnson
Lamar Johnson
Lamar Johnson is MeriTalk SLG's Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.