SpoofCard Provider Not Liable for Harassing Calls

     BOSTON (CN) – A company that allows customers to fake their caller ID and disguise their voices is not liable for sexually harassing calls received by a Massachusetts woman, the First Circuit ruled.
     Siobhan Walsh sued TelTech Systems in 2013, claiming the company’s “SpoofCard” service enabled people to harass her with sexually explicit and threatening calls using a fake caller ID intended to frame Walsh’s neighbor.
     Phone number spoofing, which used to be the exclusive realm of hackers and phone phreakers, allows callers to disguise their caller ID, giving the appearance that someone else is calling.
     In 2009, Walsh began receiving unwanted sexual calls from what appeared to be her upstairs neighbor, John Luciano, according to court records.
     Walsh reported the calls, resulting in Luciano’s arrest. Afterwards, additional calls were made to Walsh threatening her to drop the charges, resulting in Luciano’s second arrest, this time on felony witness intimidation charges.
     Johnienne and Michael DiLorenzo later confessed to making the calls in an attempt to frame Walsh’s neighbor after Luciano fired Johnienne from her restaurant job.
     The DiLorenzos were not a party to Walsh’s lawsuit, but they were brought up on criminal charges for harassment.
     Walsh argued that TelTech’s SpoofCard service was in violation of Massachusetts General Law Chapter 93A, which is a consumer protection law that, among other things, restricts the sale of products or services intended for illegal purposes.
     A federal judge in Massachusetts rejected Walsh’s reasoning because, aside from prank phone calls and harassment, the SpoofCard service can legitimately be used to protect domestic-violence victims or consumers who wish to provide a callback number without revealing their personal information, as described in the federal Trust in Caller ID Act.
     On Monday, the First Circuit upheld the ruling in TelTech’s favor, finding that the company is not at fault for the harassing phone calls because Spoof Card has lawful applications and Walsh failed to show how TelTech’s website encouraged her harassers.
     “Walsh was the victim of something far worse than a prank, and she was victimized by use of a service that facilitated such awful conduct. But the district court properly ruled that, on this record, the provider of that service was entitled to summary judgment on her state law claim,” Judge David Barron wrote for a three-judge panel.
     A defendant’s conduct must “generally be of an egregious, non-negligent nature” to be considered an unfair act, and Walsh was unable to prove that the DiLorenzos were influenced by or even saw TelTech’s website, the First Circuit ruled.
     “We agree with the district court that Walsh has not met her burden of establishing proximate causation,” Barron wrote in the 18-page opinion.

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