In January, a robocaller impersonated President Joe Biden and told Democrats not to vote in the New Hampshire primary. Now, the Federal Communications Commission has ruled that calls made with artificial intelligence-generated voices are illegal, giving states new tools to pursue those who make such calls. The judgment takes effect immediately.
On February 6, New Hampshire's attorney general announced that the fake robocalls against Biden came from a company in Texas and had opened a criminal investigation.
“Bad actors are using AI-generated voices in unsolicited robocalls to blackmail vulnerable families and imitate celebrities,” FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement. “We are warning the scammers behind these robocalls.” “State attorneys general will now have new tools to crack down on these scams and ensure the public is protected from fraud and misinformation.”
Artificial intelligence capabilities have been a hot topic since OpenAI's chatbot, ChatGPT, was released in 2022. The ability to copy the voices of celebrities, politicians, and others has attracted particular attention, especially since such familiar voices can be exploited. In 2023, a TikTok user called Ghostwriter caused a stir with a song called “Heart on My Sleeve,” which featured AI-generated vocals imitating musicians Drake and The Weeknd. Also, an AI-generated voice and likeness of singer Taylor Swift made it appear as if the Grammy-winning musician was endorsing Le Creuset cookware, but neither Le Creuset nor the real Swift were involved. There wasn't.
State attorneys general could already target the consequences of fraudulent calls using AI voices, but now the mere act of using AI to generate unauthorized voices will be illegal. The FCC statement said the ruling should give states more legal support to pursue lawsuits against scammers.
AI could help stop robocalls from getting through
The FCC has been working on this issue for several months. In November, the commission began investigating how AI can mimic familiar voices in fraudulent robocalls, relying on the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, the primary law used to limit unsolicited calls. The law gives the FCC the power to fine robocallers and block calls from carriers that facilitate illegal calls, and allows consumers and organizations to sue robocallers.
The commission also “wants to change course,” according to a release from the FCC. [AI] “A Force for Good” seeks to use artificial intelligence to assist with pattern recognition. This could allow the technology to recognize illegal calls and prevent the calls from reaching the consumer.
A coalition of 26 state attorneys general recently sent a letter to the FCC supporting this approach. With this action, the FCC will increase its efforts to establish partnerships with law enforcement agencies across the country to identify and eliminate illegal robocalls. These partnerships can provide critical resources to build the case and coordinate efforts to protect consumers and businesses across the country. The FCC provides partner countries with the expertise of its enforcement staff as well as critical resources and remedies to assist national investigations.
How to report a robocall
Unwanted robocalls are the number one complaint at the FCC and are a top consumer protection priority, the commission said in a statement on its site.
Consumers who receive such calls, whether or not the call uses an AI-generated voice, can file a complaint using the FCC's online form. You will need to enter a call description and email address. An FCC representative confirmed that this is the recommended method for heeding such calls.
There are also various call blocking and labeling tools that consumers can use to avoid answering such calls or to avoid receiving them in the first place. The FCC posted a guide to such tools, noting that many phone companies have adopted rules that automatically enroll consumers in call-blocking services. Consumers who are concerned about missing out on wanted calls can opt out. Telephone companies often provide call labels that indicate incoming calls as “Potential Scam” or “Spam” on your phone's display.
CNET also has a guide to stopping these types of calls. According to Robokiller, a company that specializes in blocking spam calls and robocalls, Americans received 3.34 billion robocalls in December, which equates to an average of 17 spam calls per American.