Late last month reports surfaced that the Trump US presidential campaign had sent unsolicited SMS messages to voters in the Chicago area. One man, Joshua Thorne, and his lawyers have filed a class-action lawsuit alleging the Trump Campaign violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA, the US equivalent of the PECR).
In the US, the electronic communications laws are stricter than the UK. The TCPA requires a specific opt in for every campaign. This means you cannot send any SMS messages to a person without their explicit consent to do so.
Thorne insists he never gave his mobile number to the Trump campaign and he never agreed to have them send him information. The legal documents of the case say Trump’s campaign rented a shortcode from the SMS messaging service Tatango, who provided them with documents on how to be compliant with the TCPA. According to an article in the Chicago Tribune, the messages were sent to “thousands of wireless telephone numbers or randomly generated phone numbers using a bulk messaging software by the company Tatango Inc.”
It’s not clear from the article if the lawsuit claims Tatango has any responsibility for the messages or not. I couldn’t verify if Tatango’s software actually generates random numbers as one of the articles asserts. But they clearly define an anti-spam policy stating “Tatango has a zero-tolerance policy for SMS spam, meaning that subscribers will only receive SMS messages from campaigns that they have opted into.” My take is that if the Trump campaign used random numbers, they likely got them from somewhere else. Likely they used the same “robocall” techniques they have for making automated voice calls to residents. Or they used phone numbers from donor information, possibly without getting express permission to send SMS messages. Either way, they would be in violation of the TCPA.
While Thorne filed a civil lawsuit and the outcome is unknown at this point, the FTC and FCC (US equivalents of the ICO) can still do their own investigation. If they find that the TCPA was violated they can issue a fine of up to $1,500 per message (~£1030).
The lawsuit assumes others had the same experience and that the court will assign a “class action” status which covers anyone who received an unsolicited message from Trump. They are suing for “statutory damages to all class members; to stop the text messages to wireless phones through the use of an automatic telephone dialing system without prior express consent; reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs; and any other relief the court deems reasonable and just.”