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Fifth Circuit: Federal anti-spoofing measure preempts Mississippi law

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in early December that a Mississippi law enacted in 2010 that prohibits “spoofing” is preempted by federal law.

In 2010, Mississippi lawmakers passed and former Gov. Haley Barbour signed the Caller ID Spoofing Act, which made it a misdemeanor to spoof – or falsify – the telephone number of a caller. Spoofing is common among telemarketers.

A federal law also enacted in 2010 made it illegal to spoof with the intent to defraud, cause harm or wrongfully obtain anything of value.

New Jersey-based telecom TelTech Systems, which provides third-party spoofing services, sued the state, alleging that the Mississippi law did not allow non-harmful spoofing, something the federal law was designed to protect. A district court judge ruled in favor of TelTech, and the defendants – which included Gov. Phil Bryant and Attorney General Jim Hood – appealed to the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans.

In its ruling, a panel of three Fifth Circuit judges said that the legislative notes for the 2010 federal law revealed that “Congress intended to balance carefully the drawbacks of malicious caller ID spoofing against the benefits provided by legitimate caller ID spoofing.”

Spoofing technology has grown in popularity with the rise in smartphone use. Many apps and websites allow users to spoof their information, and even offer technology that can disguise a caller’s voice.

Instances where spoofing is considered legitimate include use by those who work from home, and want to give the impression they’re calling from an office, or professionals who regularly use their cell phones to conduct business but do not want to give out that number.

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