The Case for Not Unmasking Caller-ID

Posted on July 26, 2020

Since the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) passed the Truth in Caller-ID Act (TiCA) of 2009, the agency continues to crack down on caller-ID “spoofing.” This is the practice of modifying caller ID information to make it appear as though a call is coming from a different phone number from the real, originating phone number.

Just recently, the FCC proposed a fine on insurance telemarketers to the tune of $225 million for making over a billion robocalls using fake numbers. This legislation—along with the FCC’s new rules requiring service providers to implement caller-ID authentication protocols by June 30, 2020—prevents these unwanted calls from reaching end users. The legislation also addresses important privacy and openness issues that are critical components of caller-ID and navigating the road to unmasking a call.

As a likely recipient of a masked call, you may be curious about unmasking caller-ID. Read on to learn about our stance on unmasking and its potential risks.

Our stance on unmasking caller-ID

At Flowroute, now part of Intrado, we are often asked if we can unmask caller-ID. We don’t support unmasking for several important reasons. But first, it’s important to understand what’s allowed within the FCC’s provisions.

The FCC does not permit carriers to expose blocked caller-IDs from callers that have requested privacy—unless the caller is a telemarketer. Further, TiCA legally protects masked caller-IDs (unless the calls are coming from telemarketers). The FCC requires telemarketers to disclose their number or the number of the company they represent. Failure to comply can result in a $10,000 fine for each violation.

There are also important caveats you should be aware of as a caller if you want your number to remain private. When you dial a toll-free number, for example, the party you dial is allowed to see your phone number even if you want to block it. Some bad actors misuse this loophole by routing calls through toll-free numbers in order to remove the privacy request and access caller-ID information.

According to the FCC, unmasking that is conducted by “reversing the privacy indicator initially set in accordance with the caller’s privacy preference” could be considered the “provision of inaccurate caller identification information” and could result in a $10,000 fine—so beware of this.

The case for not unmasking

Being able to unmask callers can not only violate FCC rules, but can undermine personal privacy and cause personal harm. In general, it seems unfair that callers who are expecting their information to be private learn that their expectations can’t be met.

One specific example is with domestic violence. The National Network to End Domestic Violence has requested the FCC to require carriers to notify callers if their request for call privacy is not effective. Programs for survivors of domestic violence along with the survivors themselves require privacy from a blocked caller-ID to maintain confidentiality and, ultimately, safety.

Notifying callers that their information is not private is similar to putting signs up around your home or business notifying visitors of your closed-circuit security cameras. It’s highly likely that the abusive or annoying calls from those who want to hide their identity will probably forgo their malicious intent and just hang up. But you face the risk of a fine if your tactics are discovered.

All in all, unmasking caller-ID is a bit of a grey area. While you may think it could help curb scammers and telemarketing calls, it could also land you in financial trouble in the form of significant fines.

The good news is that anyone who receives a masked telemarketing call can report it to FCC.

Chances are, if it’s happening to you it’s likely happening to millions of others. And, with all the additional protections the FCC is putting in place to curb robocalls and phone scams, it’s likely you’ve noticed a reduction in these intrusions and can simply ignore or block unwanted calls from unknown numbers.


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