The Federal Communications Commission has issued an emergency temporary waiver to Jewish community centers nationwide to allow those establishments and law enforcement agencies to access the caller ID information of anonymous threatening and harassing callers.
Last week, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) requested such a waiver in a Tuesday letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, noting that there had been 69 phone threats involving 54 JCCs in 27 different states since the beginning of 2017. He added that on last Monday alone, bomb threats were simultaneously made to Jewish centers in 11 states across the country, including centers in Plainview, Staten Island and Westchester County.
With the waiver, the phone numbers of callers who have their numbers blocked can be unscrambled so they can be read.
“This agency must and will do whatever it can to combat the recent wave of bomb threats against Jewish Community Centers,” Pai said in a news release issued Friday. “I am pleased that we are taking quick action to address this issue and hope that this waiver will help Jewish Community Centers, telecommunications carriers, and law enforcement agencies track down the perpetrators of these crimes.”
In a prepared statement Schumer issued Friday, he said he applauds the FCC’s decision and noted that one suspect allegedly connected to such threats has been taken into custody.
“I am hopeful today’s decision will help catch and deter any future copycats,” Schumer said. “All communities and entities targeted by intimidation and fear deserve access to all of the tools needed to ensure these criminals are brought to justice.”
According to the release, FCC rules generally require phone companies to respect a calling party’s request to have its caller ID information blocked from the party receiving the call. It added that a waiver of this rule may help the community centers and law enforcement identify “abusive and potentially dangerous” callers.
The news release added the FCC has issued such waivers in the past, but rarely, and that the granting Friday of the latest temporary waiver comes in the form of an order from the FCC’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau.
Last year at Schumer’s request the FCC provided a limited waiver to the Orange County community of Middletown when similar threats were made to a school there. The calls then stopped.
The FCC also issued a public notice soliciting comment on whether a permanent waiver would be appropriate, the release said.
On Friday, former reporter Juan Thompson, 31, was arrested in St. Louis, Missouri, and charged with cyberstalking, which according to an FBI complaint was “part of a sustained campaign to harass and intimidate” a woman with whom he had been romantically involved.
Authorities said Thompson, who they said was fired about a year ago from the journalism website The Intercept, made at least eight bomb threats, but information was not immediately available about which threats were involved or if tracing his alleged phone calls was part of the probe that led to the charges against him.
According to the complaint, after Thompson’s relationship with the woman ended he began sending defamatory emails and faxes to her workplace that falsely claimed she was involved in criminal activity, along with making threats to the Jewish centers in her name.