JACKSON, Miss. (CN) – Two telecom companies say Mississippi enacted an unconstitutional law that prohibits electronic “spoofing”: using devices that disguise the calling phone number, so caller ID systems cannot tell where the call is coming from.
Gov. Haley Barbour signed the Caller ID Anti-Spoofing Act into law on March 15 this year. The law makes it illegal to “enter or cause to be entered false information into a telephone caller identification system with the intent to deceive, defraud, or mislead the recipient of the call,” or to “place a call knowing that [such] false information was entered.” (Brackets in complaint, citing the law at issue, Mississippi Code Ann. Sections 77-3-801 through 77-3-809 (2010).)
The plaintiffs say that only Congress or the Federal Communications Commission have the power to impose such sweeping requirements on interstate phone calls. Calling it a 1st Amendment violation, they say the Act “violates the rights of potentially millions of PSTN [public switched telephone network] and World Wide Web users to offer protected speech, including the right to do so anonymously.”
In July 2009, a federal court in Florida struck down a similar law as unconstitutional.
Plaintiff Wonderland Rentals is a market research company that uses caller ID spoofing for a “mystery shopping” service that anonymously gauges how well its clients’ customer service representatives are working.
Plaintiff TelTech Systems sells a “SpoofCard” long-distance calling card that allows customers to change the number displayed on a called party’s telephone.
TelTech president Meir Cohen is the third plaintiff; he claims he uses the SpoofCard.
The plaintiffs say their customers face criminal liability under the Act, which “prohibits the use of caller ID spoofing where either the calling or called party in physically in Mississippi.”
They say it is impossible to know for sure where a party is located.
The plaintiffs say that when telephones were attached to a wall, it was easy to determine where calls began and ended, but due to the modern communications technology, the users and service providers can no longer be sure where the called party actually is. In fact, they say, because of the number of mobile phones, “there is no longer any automatic connection between the area code of a calling or called party’s number and the party’s location.”
They claim the law violates the Interstate Commerce Clause of the Constitution and unconstitutionally “prohibits such protected speech as anonymous speech, pseudonymous speech, and the use of false identification to avoid social ostracism, to prevent discrimination and harassment, and to protect privacy.”
And they say the Act violates the “First, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments by denying citizens their right to communicate anonymously and pseudonymously.”
They want the law declared unconstitutional and its enforcement enjoined.
They are represented by Stanley Q. Smith of Jackson.