The FCC is investigating Haiti campaign calls

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The U.S. Federal Communications Commission is investigating last year’s series of fervent campaign “robo-calls” by Haitian presidential candidate Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly, which led to evacuations at the Fort Bragg military base, The Miami Herald has learned.
In the weeks prior to Haiti’s November election, anyone who had ever placed a call to Haiti received a string of pre-recorded calls from Martelly. After the Jan. 12 earthquake, the list included countless Haitian Americans, journalists, non-profit groups and the U.S. military.
They heard Martelly shouting in Creole, urging the Diaspora to support tet kale – the bald-headed one. His frantic tone even spooked the U.S. Army.
“There were people who didn’t understand what it was and speculated it was a terrorist threat in a foreign language,” said Fort Bragg spokesman Ben Abel. “Two or three buildings where the calls came in were evacuated.”
On Nov. 17, the Army criminal investigations team swept the cleared buildings for explosives and listened to recordings left on voice mailboxes, Abel said.
“I listened to it and thought: ‘That’s not Arabic. That’s not Pashto. That sounds like French,” Abel said.
But there’s a problem: The U.S. Telephone Consumer Protection Act has specific rules for automated pre-recorded calls. For one, they can’t go to cellular phones when the receiver has to pay for the call. On residential lines, there needs to be full disclosure on whom the call is coming from and how to reach that person.
The FCC would not reveal details of the investigation.
“We are aware of the situation and are looking into the matter,” said Robert Kenny, director of media relations for the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau. “The Commission aggressively enforces provisions of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which generally prohibits delivery of prerecorded messages to residential phones and also prohibits the use of automatic telephone dialing equipment in certain situations, such as calls to emergency lines, hospitals, and mobile phones.”
He noted that the law applies not only to calls made within the United States, but also to calls made from outside the country to U.S. phones.
Penalties are $16,000 per violation, he said. If the violator does not have an FCC license, the Commission usually gives a warning first. Individuals can seek damages of $500 per violation.
Campaign spokesman Damian Merlo said the candidate used a Haitian company to make what he called “awareness calls” and was unaware of any problems.
“We used a company and assume they know what they are doing,” Merlo said. “We have not had any inquiries about the calls. No one in our camp was aware of an FCC investigation.”
For the March 20 runoff, the camp has ceased making the pesky calls. They’re pushing Martelly’s promises of dual nationality and two years of tax-free investments using unsolicited — and legal — text messages instead.
Source: Miami Herald

By Frances Robles

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