Are Political Text Messages Legal? Wanta Interviewed by USA Today
Mar 06, 2020
In the age of texting as a primary mode of communication, spreading political messages can take a far more personal form. On March 3, 2020, Baillon Thome Jozwiak and Wanta partner and consumer protection lawyer Shawn Wanta was quoted in a USA Today article for his expertise on the legality of peer-to-peer texting as a method of campaign promotion. Peer-to-peer texting is a cheap and effective way of spreading information to a wide variety of people via individual messages which typically come from a local number. When single texts are sent from one individual to another, the term “autodialer” as defined by the Telephone Consumer Protection Act—which prevents automated unsolicited texts—can be avoided.
However, when phone numbers are simply pulled and used from publicly available voter files, recipients often feel a sense of invasion as the texts start flooding in. While the intimacy of one-on-one texting is effective in spreading a message, it is the same intimacy that leads to the feeling of overstepped boundaries and begs the question, is this legal?
According to Wanta, the determining factor is the how the messages were sent. “Messages that were sent with an autodialer system are illegal unless the recipient gave their prior expressed consent,” he says. But since the peer-to-peer messages of most campaigns are sent from the personal or burner phones of volunteers and are one-on-one, they can be qualified as legal. Still, Wanta makes it clear that there is a way to opt out of these messages, and says it’s important for consumers to know that they can revoke their consent: “At any time, you can contact the campaign and say, ‘I don’t agree to continue to receive this text message.” Quick methods include texting back “STOP,” “end,” “cancel”, or “quit.” Wanta also says that if consumers continue to receive texts after opting out, they can file a complaint of illegal texting with the Federal Communications Commission.
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