The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) took a strong stance against robocalls by banning the use of artificial intelligence-generated voices. This decisive action conveys a powerful message that the manipulation of this technology for fraudulent purposes or to deceive voters will not be allowed.
In a unanimous ruling, the use of AI voice-cloning tools in robocalls has been addressed under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. This law, enacted in 1991, specifically targets unwanted calls that utilize artificial and prerecorded voice messages.
New Hampshire authorities are currently making progress in their investigation into the AI-generated robocalls that imitated President Joe Biden’s voice. These robocalls were aimed at dissuading people from voting in the state’s first-in-the-nation primary, which took place last month.
The new regulation, implemented with immediate effect, grants the FCC the authority to impose fines on companies utilizing AI voices in their phone calls or impede the service providers that facilitate such calls. Additionally, it enables call recipients to initiate legal action and equips state attorneys general with a new means to clamp down on those who violate the rules, as stated by the FCC.
“Fraudsters have been exploiting AI-generated voices in unwanted robocalls to prey on vulnerable individuals, impersonate celebrities, and spread misinformation to voters,” stated Jessica Rosenworcel, chairwoman of the agency, in a news release. “We are sending a clear message to these scammers responsible for the robocalls.”
Telemarketers are not allowed to use automated dialers or artificial or prerecorded voice messages to call cellphones under the consumer protection law. In addition, they must obtain prior written consent from the call recipient before making such calls to landlines.
According to the FCC, the recent ruling categorizes AI-generated voices used in robocalls as “artificial” and subject to the same regulations.
Breaking the law can result in hefty fines, with the FCC stating that the maximum penalty for each call can exceed $23,000. In the past, the agency has utilized consumer protection laws to crack down on robocallers who disrupt elections. This has included imposing a $5 million fine on two individuals who spread false information to predominantly Black communities, falsely claiming that voting by mail could increase their chances of facing arrest, debt collection, and forced vaccination.
Call recipients have the right to take legal action and potentially receive up to $1,500 in damages for each unwanted call, as per the law.
According to Rosenworcel, the commission initiated a review of the legality of AI-generated voice robocalls due to the increasing prevalence of such calls. In response, the FCC sought public input on the matter in November. Furthermore, a bipartisan coalition of 26 state attorneys general wrote to the FCC in January, urging them to proceed with a ruling on this issue.
According to The Associated Press, acting swiftly is crucial because the threat of AI-generated audio recordings that can flawlessly mimic human voices is already a reality. These deceptive calls have the potential to target anyone, making it imperative to take action immediately.
Generative AI tools, ranging from voice-cloning software to image generators, are already being utilized in elections across the United States and around the globe.
During the previous year, when the U.S. presidential race was commencing, numerous campaign advertisements incorporated AI-generated audio or imagery. Additionally, some candidates decided to explore the use of AI chatbots as a means to engage with voters.
Efforts by both Democrats and Republicans in Congress have been made to regulate the use of AI in political campaigns. However, despite these bipartisan endeavors, there has been no successful passage of federal legislation on this matter. It is worth noting that with the general election just nine months away, the urgency to address this issue is increasing.
New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella announced on Tuesday that the source of the calls targeting thousands of state residents, mostly registered Democrats, has been identified. The calls were traced back to Life Corp., a Texas-based company owned by Walter Monk. Furthermore, it was determined that the calls were transmitted through another Texas-based company called Lingo Telecom.
New Hampshire took action by issuing cease-and-desist orders and subpoenas to both companies. Additionally, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) sent a cease-and-desist letter to Formella, the telecommunications company. The attorneys general from all 50 states and Washington, D.C., formed a task force and collectively addressed a stern letter to Life Corp., urging them to cease their illegal call practices without delay.
According to the FCC, Lingo Telecom and Life Corp. have both faced investigations for their involvement in illegal robocalls. In 2003, Life Corp. received a citation from the FCC for unlawfully sending pre-recorded and unsolicited advertisements to residential phone lines.
In recent times, Lingo has faced allegations from a task force of attorneys general, claiming that it serves as the gateway provider for 61 suspected illegal calls originating from overseas. In 2022, the Federal Trade Commission issued a cease and desist order against Lingo’s previous corporate name, Matrix Telecom. The following year, the task force urged Lingo to implement measures to safeguard its network.