FCC Gives Middletown School District Waiver to Identify Threatening Calls
MIDDLETOWN—The Federal Communications Commission on April 13 gave the Middletown School District a waiver to trace and find identifying information from threatening calls.
The school district asked the FCC to waive certain regulations that allowed individuals making telephone calls—including if they were making calls that threaten other individuals or agencies—that their right of privacy would be protected.
“When a call comes through, even if we tried to trace it, the identifying factors of the caller would be hidden,” said School Superintendent Dr. Kenneth Eastwood. The school district filed a complaint, or waiver, on the regulation.
Eastwood noted that most waivers can take years to be granted. He said one request took four years to get approved and another two years. He wasn’t optimistic. “We thought this was going to be a waste,” Eastwood said. “We’ll get the waiver request in and we won’t see it approved for a couple years down the road.”
This has been an especially fast turnaround for a federal agency, he said. He credits the help from congressional representatives, especially Sen. Charles Schumer. “We were able to communicate to them and have them see the urgency of getting this waiver approved quickly,” Eastwood said.
Approval happened—and fast. In March Eastwood said that Schumer was in Wallkill on another issue and agreed to a 15-minute meeting about the swatting threats. “He left a meeting here and called the commissioner of the FCC from his car because he was so concerned.”
Schumer went directly to the source—FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. “When [Schumer] left he said, ‘I know this guy,'” Eastwood said.
The FCC approved the waiver in less than two months. “Having a federal agency turning around a request like this in two months is unheard of,” Eastwood said.
A week after it was submitted, the application was up for 30 days’ comment. After the 30-day comment period, Eastwood said “it was less than a month—only a couple of weeks—and boom, it’s approved.”
“We felt good about the fact that he would be able to have some influence in trying to get this moving,” Eastwood said. “We never thought that it would move this quickly.”
As he looks back on the effort, Eastwood said “this is the way we all think government should work.”
FBI Key Player
There is no end date to the waiver from the FCC’s privacy regulation as Eastwood reads it. “I read it over and I didn’t see it.” Eastwood said it is considered a limited waiver. This means the school district doesn’t have access to the key information needed. Law enforcement will have it.
“That’s fine with us,” Eastwood said. The FBI has worked tirelessly on the case. “They have the talent and the capacity to understand the issue much, much better than us and to trace it.” The FBI has worked the case with local enforcement since the swatting calls began at the beginning of the school year.
The FBI are on-site very shortly after a threatening call. “They are collaboratively working with the law enforcement folks, to grab the information that we have about the call. Then they start tracing.”
The waiver will make a big difference. Carriers of phone calls did not provide key identifying data in the past.
Now Eastwood said the burden is on them to make it known. “The carriers who were moving these calls through to us would be instantaneously required to provide all the data, including the billable information, meaning who is paying for this call.”
If the carrier does not hand over key data, they face the wrath of the FCC. “If we find the carriers are not passing this information on to us as legally required, we will now start reporting that information to the Federal Communications Commission.”
Swatting callers have been passing their calls through several carriers. Now law enforcement can keep following the call until they find where key information was withheld. Now the law can be one step ahead of the perpetrators.
Eastwood is glad to hand the problem to law enforcement. “I’ve learned more information that I don’t really want to know.”
Town of Wallkill Supervisor Dan Depew called the swatting calls back in January “domestic terrorism.” The Epoch Times reported that he urged Schumer and Maloney to ask the federal government “to give us whatever resources they possibly can and work with us to bring to justice those who are doing these things.”
Eastwood said at a school board meeting in January how frustrating it is to track the threatening calls. Every call can be bounced among five to eight carriers.
Depew said parents and residents might not be aware of all the work going on behind the scenes. That work has paid off to find the individuals committing these crimes.
The FCC’s official statement said: “We conclude that granting this request, under the conditions specified herein, will serve the public interest by allowing security and law enforcement personnel to rapidly respond to telephone calls made to Middletown that threaten the safety of school children and employees, without undermining the policy objectives of the Commission’s CPN [calling party number] rules.”
“The Middletown School District has suffered from these horrifying ‘swatting’ attacks for far too long,” Schumer stated. “Thanks to this waiver the school district and local law enforcement will finally be able to access the critical caller ID information that will crack the case and bring these criminals to justice.”
Eastwood applauds the hard work of Schumer, Sen. Gillibrand, and Congressman Maloney. “From my perspective as a citizen in New York, and in this congressional district, I see that as a validator that we have the right people in office, not only because they can understand the concern and the urgency but they also have the political muscle to get things done.”
“This is great news for the Middletown community,” according to Schumer’s statement, “because those who have been terrorizing the City will no longer be allowed to hide in the shadows.”
To contact this reporter, email [email protected]