FCC Outlaws AI Robocalls—What It Means for Voters

NEW YORK (AP) — The Federal Communications Commission made a landmark decision on Thursday to ban the use of artificially generated voices in robocalls, marking a significant step in the fight against scams and voter manipulation.

The unanimous ruling targets robocalls made with AI voice-cloning tools under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, a 1991 law restricting junk calls that use artificial and prerecorded voice messages. Effective immediately, the regulation empowers the FCC to fine companies that use AI voices in their calls or block the service providers that carry them.

FCC Chairwoman, Jessica Rosenworcel, emphasized the urgency of the decision, stating that bad actors have been exploiting AI-generated voices in robocalls to mislead voters, impersonate celebrities, and extort family members. The new ruling classifies AI-generated voices in robocalls as “artificial” and enforces them by the same standards set in the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.

The FCC also announced that those who break the law can face steep fines, with a maximum penalty of over $23,000 per call. Additionally, call recipients now have the right to take legal action and potentially recover up to $1,500 in damages for each unwanted call.

Rosenworcel further explained that the commission’s decision to outlaw AI-generated voice robocalls was prompted by a rise in these types of calls. The development follows an investigation into AI-generated robocalls mimicking President Joe Biden’s voice to discourage people from voting in New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary.

The use of sophisticated generative AI tools in elections is not limited to robocalls. Several campaign advertisements and candidates have utilized AI-generated audio and imagery, as well as AI chatbots to communicate with voters in political campaigns.

This decision comes amid efforts by a bipartisan group of 26 state attorneys general urging the FCC to rule on the matter. It also follows the identification of two companies, Life Corp. and Lingo Telecom, as the source of AI-generated robocalls targeting New Hampshire’s primary election.

The FCC’s ruling is a direct response to the evolving landscape of technology in influencing elections and the increasing prevalence of AI-generated scams and misinformation. As concerns over the impact of technology on democracy continue to grow, the decision to ban AI-generated voices in robocalls signals a crucial step in safeguarding the integrity of the electoral process.