What You Need to Know About the Telephone Consumer Protection Act 

The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) was signed into law in 1991 to curb the increase of abusive and unwanted telemarketing practices. Due to the private right of action it contains, the…

The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) was signed into law in 1991 to curb the increase of abusive and unwanted telemarketing practices. Due to the private right of action it contains, the TCPA has long been abused by the trial bar to sue companies that communicate with their customers. The U.S. Supreme Court ameliorated these litigation abuses somewhat in its 2021 Facebook, Inc. v. Duguid decision, but businesses continue to be subjected to significant litigation, and the American public continues to receive a significant number of illegal calls so interest from policymakers at the national and state level remains high. 

TCPA Glossary


Technology that automatically dials telephone numbers to deliver a message. 

Federal Communications Commission (FCC)

The U.S. government agency that regulates interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable.  

Federal Trade Commission (FTC)

The U.S. government agency that protects consumers and promotes competition, including acting against deceptive telemarketing practices.  

Industry Traceback Group (ITG)

A consortium that conducts private-led efforts to trace back the origin of suspected illegal robocalls.  

Private Right of Action

The legal right of an individual to file a lawsuit against a party that has violated a law or regulation. 


Calls made with an autodialer or that contain an artificial or prerecorded voice message.  


The practice of disguising a caller ID to make it appear as though a call is coming from a different number, often used by scammers to deceive recipients.  


A caller identification framework that allows voice service providers to verify that the caller ID information transmitted with a call matches the caller’s real phone number.  


The business of selling products or services directly to consumers via telephone calls. 

Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA)

A federal law that regulates telemarketing calls, including those made with autodialers and prerecorded messages. 


Are all robocalls illegal or harmful? 

No, not all robocalls are illegal or harmful. While some robocalls are associated with scams and fraudulent activities, many are legitimate and serve useful purposes, such as reminding patients about medical appointments or informing voters about election-related information. The legality of a robocall often depends on whether the caller has obtained proper consent from the recipient and complies with regulations like the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). 

What is being done to stop illegal robocalls? 

To combat illegal robocalls, federal agencies, state attorneys general, and the telecommunications industry are collaborating on several fronts. This includes the implementation of the STIR/SHAKEN caller identification framework to verify caller ID information, the formation of the Industry Traceback Group (ITG) to trace the origin of suspected illegal robocalls, and coordinated enforcement actions to penalize scammers. Additionally, consumers are empowered with tools to report and block unwanted calls. 

How can I protect myself from illegal robocalls? 

Consumers can protect themselves from illegal robocalls by using call-blocking and labeling tools provided by wireless carriers, specialized mobile apps, and features available on smartphones. It’s also important to report unwanted calls to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), or state attorneys general. Consumers should be cautious about sharing personal information over the phone and verify the identity of callers claiming to represent legitimate organizations. 

What should legislators consider when regulating robocalls? 

Legislators should focus on targeting bad actors who make illegal robocalls without hindering the use of robocalling technology for beneficial purposes. This includes avoiding overly broad definitions of calling equipment, rejecting private rights of action that can lead to abusive litigation, capping damages and civil penalties to reasonable amounts, and prohibiting class action lawsuits that do not contribute to stopping illegal robocalls. Legislators should also recognize the value of legal robocalls and support clear rules that allow legitimate businesses to communicate effectively with consumers. 

How do private rights of action affect the TCPA? 

Private rights of action have a significant impact on the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). They allow individuals to file lawsuits against companies for TCPA violations, such as making unauthorized robocalls. While this mechanism aims to protect consumers from unwanted calls, it has led to a proliferation of litigation. Many lawsuits target legitimate businesses over minor or technical violations rather than focusing on actual bad actors who make illegal robocalls. This has resulted in substantial settlements and legal costs for companies, and a lucrative environment for plaintiffs’ lawyers, often without improving consumer privacy or reducing the number of illegal robocalls. 

The Duguid decision has not curbed class action litigation abuse under the TCPA. As the above chart shows, over half of federal TCPA cases continue to be class actions.

Facebook v. Duguid 

In April 2021 the U.S. Supreme Court handed down an important TCPA-related decision in Facebook v. Duguid, where it narrowly interpreted the definition of an “automated telephone dialing system” and closed the door on some avenues of abusive litigation. The decision reduced liability exposure for many businesses using automated calling technologies to communicate appropriately with their customers.  

While this was a favorable decision, abusive litigation under the TCPA continues to proliferate, and the plaintiffs’ bar continues to try to pin the blame—and more liability—on the business community. 

State Mini-TCPAs 

The trial bar’s efforts to expand liability under the TCPA extend to the states as well, where they are working to advance “mini-TCPA” legislation. In addition to being subject to the TCPA, businesses are subject to laws in each state that regulate telemarketing and telephone solicitations, often called “mini-TCPAs”. Mini-TCPA legislation often attempts to expand upon the liability and opportunities for abuse under the TCPA by further expanding definitions, such as “autodialer,” or allowing for even higher damages. 

A Rise in Class Actions 

The proliferation of TCPA litigation has contributed to a significant increase in class action lawsuits, which has had detrimental effects on both businesses and consumers. The TCPA’s provision for statutory damages incentivizes plaintiffs and their lawyers to seek out technical statutory violations, often without actual harm, to aggregate into class actions with the potential for substantial payouts. This trend not only imposes high legal costs on businesses, which are often passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices but also creates a legal environment where the primary beneficiaries of such lawsuits are the attorneys rather than the consumers they purport to represent. The inefficiency of this system is further exacerbated by the fact that many class members receive little to no tangible benefit from these actions, while businesses, especially smaller ones, face the threat of insolvency due to the disproportionate legal burden. 

ILR’s new research paper, Expanding Litigation Pathways: TCPA Lawsuit Abuse Continues in the Wake of Duguid outlines that the Duguid decision did not curb abusive litigation. In fact, “[o]ver half of federal TCPA cases continue to be class actions. This percentage is significantly higher than other federal consumer protection statutes and is growing.” 

Figure 3 below shows that over the course of 2020-2023, a group of top 10 filers is responsible for over half of federal TCPA filings each year.

Combatting Abusive Litigation 

ILR works to combat abusive litigation filed under the statute and to block attempts to expand TCPA liability. In addition to lawsuits filed under the federal statute, a significant amount of TCPA-related activity has moved to the states where plaintiffs are attempting to expand liability with state-focused “mini-TCPAs.” 

ILR Testifies Before a Senate Commerce Subcommittee 

In October 2023, the Senate Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Communications, Media, and Broadband held a hearing titled “Protecting Americans from Robocalls.” ILR’s testimony focused on the good progress that has already been made in reducing robocalls and on urging DOJ to use its current enforcement authority to collect FCC forfeitures rather than adding any additional enforcers to the mix or expanding the TCPA’s private right of action. 

More Developments Expected in the Near Future 

Despite the progress that has been made, Americans continue to receive a frustrating number of robocalls, and interest in expanding the TCPA remains strong. ILR is engaging with the Federal Communications Commission on this issue after it announced it would consider a rulemaking petition designed to expand TCPA-related liability. We stand ready to engage with the Commission further if necessary. ILR maintains a broad TCPA coalition of partners that enables us to coordinate advocacy efforts. The coalition is opposing the Do Not Disturb Act recently introduced by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), which would undo Duguid, impose ambiguous and overbroad regulations, and add to the abusive litigation under the TCPA. 

TCPA Research 

The Institute for Legal Reform’s research program is cutting-edge. We examine the most pressing civil justice issues facing legal systems across the world. We work with some of the world’s foremost legal experts to offer insights and potential solutions for a more just legal system. 

Abusive litigation under the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) continues at high levels, despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2021 Facebook v. Duguid decision. ILR’s research examines the landscape of TCPA litigation three years after Duguid narrowed the scope of a key threshold issue for liability under the statute—the definition of what constitutes an “autodialer.” As the paper documents, TCPA lawsuit filings declined sharply immediately after Duguid, but they have begun to rise once more.

Read Expanding Litigation Pathways: TCPA Lawsuit Abuse Continues in the Wake of Duguid to learn more.

TCPA Blogs

Want to learn more about the TCPA? Check out some of our blogs.