THE Federal Communications Commission Unanimously on Thursday ruled that robocalls containing AI-generated voice clones are illegal under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991. The telecommunications law passed more than 30 years ago now encompasses some of the most advanced artificial intelligence programs today. The February 8 decision, effective immediately, marks the FCC's sharpest escalation yet in its ongoing efforts to curtail AI-assisted scam and misinformation campaigns ahead of the 2024 election season.
“It seems like something from the distant future, but it’s already here,” says the FCC chairwoman. Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement accompanying the declaratory decision. “This technology can confuse us when we listen, watch, and click, because it can make us believe that all kinds of false information is legitimate.”
[Related: A deepfake ‘Joe Biden’ robocall told voters to stay home for primary election.]
The FCC's sweeping ban comes just two weeks after authorities reported a voter suppression campaign targeting thousands of New Hampshire residents ahead of the state's presidential primary. The robocalls, later confirmed to come from a Group based in Texas— featured a voice clone of President Joe Biden telling residents not to vote in the Jan. 23 primary.
Scammers have already used AI software for everything from creating fake celebrity videos to selling fake health insurance cards to impersonating a planned victim's loved ones for fictitious kidnappings. In November, the FCC issued a notice of public inquiry regarding the use of AI in scams, as well as how to potentially leverage the same technology to combat bad actors.
According to Rosenworcel, Thursday's announcement aims “to go further.” Passed in 1991, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act at the time covered spam and “spam” calls containing artificial or pre-recorded voice messages. After reviewing the law, the FCC determined (unsurprisingly) that AI voice clones are apparently just much more advanced iterations of the same spam tactics, and are therefore subject to the same prohibitions.
“We all know that unwanted robocalls are a scourge on our society. But I am particularly troubled by recent harmful and deceptive uses of voice cloning in robocalls,” FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks said in a statement. accompanying statement. Starks went on to call generative AI a “new threat” to voter suppression efforts heading into the US election season, and therefore warranting immediate action.
In addition to potentially receiving regulatory fines of more than $23,000 per call, voice cloners are now also open to legal action from victims. The Telephone Consumer Protection Act states that individuals can recover up to $1,500 in damages per unwanted call.