In the presence of an emergency, there are exceptions to the normal TCPA regulations that surround text messages.
The current situation with COVID-19, however, is unprecedented, which has opened up some space for confusion.
What exactly is considered an emergency message? If the topic is related to public health, can you send out a text blast without express written consent from all of your contacts?
We’ve reviewed the existing Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), Federal Communications Commission (FCC) guidelines, as well as relevant case law to get to the bottom of these questions.
💡Please note that this advice is for informational purposes only and is neither intended as nor should be substituted for consultation with appropriate legal counsel and/or your organization’s regulatory compliance team.
The simple answer is that many coronavirus-related “emergency” text messages may be exempt from the existing TCPA consent regulations.
As of March 20, 2020, the FCC released a Declaratory Ruling that confirmed the coronavirus pandemic qualifies as an emergency under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA).
According to the TCPA, to determine if your message qualifies as an “emergency purpose” under this Declaratory Ruling, it must meet the following criteria:
The FCC also provided a few sample scenarios to demonstrate what these emergency messages might look like. They included:
Texts about the coronavirus that fall under the emergency purposes exemption must be just that, an emergency.
If your subscribers have given you express written consent to send them messages already, you’re free to continue communicating with them about all things marketing and non-marketing.
In the instance that you have a coronavirus-related text message for folks who have not provided their prior consent, and you’re wondering if you can send it anyway, here are some ways to figure out if you’re exempt and able to move forward.
There are a few straightforward do’s and don’ts:
Some instances can get a little murkier:
As with any consent-related question, we encourage you to seek legal counsel to help determine if your message is marketing or emergency content.
You may also find helpful information in blogs and articles from the Womble Bond Dickinson’s TCPA Defense Force— a group of attorneys who specialize in TCPA law.
If you’re still unsure, you can always highly publicize a method to subscribe to text updates. Give your audience plenty of ways to legally subscribe to your messages through keywords, web forms, click-to-text buttons, and mobile sign-up widgets.
These methods not only provide legal peace of mind, but they work. It’s what the entirety of New York City is doing!
As a bonus, this is also a great way to boost accessibility and reach non-English speakers with keywords in different languages.
The coronavirus is an emergency of international proportions. As citizens of the world, we have a moral responsibility to care and look out for one another, which includes sharing information that will protect the spread of this virus.
These exemptions are in place to do just that.
💡Congressional intent points to a TCPA express consent exemption for calls (and messages) made to communicate information about the Coronavirus and its impact to consumers and employees.
💡Messages that are marketing in nature, even if they’re marketing products to help prevent the spread of the virus, still require consent.
💡If you’re worried your messages may not fall under the emergency exemption, but you still want to share them with your audience, we encourage you to provide ample opportunity for folks to subscribe to your messages.