Health providers can send automated calls and texts during the novel coronavirus outbreak without violating an anti-robocall law, the Federal Communications Commission said.
The FCC said in a declaratory ruling that the Covid-19 pandemic qualifies as an emergency under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which generally prohibits automated or pre-recorded calls and texts without recipients’ permission.
The entities that can make automated calls related to the pandemic without getting the prior consent under an “emergency purposes” exception include hospitals, health care providers, state and local health officials, and other government officials, the FCC said.
The FCC’s ruling clears the way for many safety-critical communications during the Covid-19 outbreak, though the agency excluded businesses not tied to health care from its emergency exception.
Organizations not included in the FCC’s ruling likely will look to send “messages for which they have consent, or other low risk communications like emails or individual phone calls,” said Scott Goldsmith, a partner at Dorsey & Whitney LLP who defends clients in TCPA lawsuits.
The ruling is a “really limited application of the emergency purposes exception,” Goldsmith said.
The exception applies not only to the health care providers but also entities that make calls “under the express direction of such an organization and acting on its behalf,” the agency said in the ruling.
The content of the calls “must be solely informational, made necessary because of the COVID-19 outbreak, and directly related to the imminent health or safety risk arising out of the COVID-19 outbreak,” the FCC said in the March 20 ruling. A call from a county official about quarantines, shelter-in-place requirements, or school closures would qualify, the FCC said.
Advertising and telemarketing calls still would require consent because they don’t constitute an emergency purpose, the agency said. Calls or texts promoting home test kits, health insurance, or cleaning services, for example, don’t affect the health and safety of consumers, according to the order.
“If your ultimate goal is to sell a product or service that may help people in a time of emergency, but isn’t directly related to the emergency itself, you aren’t going to get that exception,” said David Carter, a partner at Womble Bond Dickinson who focuses on the TCPA.