The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday outlawed robocalls that contain voices generated by artificial intelligence , a decision that sends a clear message that exploiting the technology to scam people and mislead voters won’t be tolerated.
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.
The announcement comes as New Hampshire authorities are advancing their in vestigation into AI-generated robocalls that mimicked President Biden’s voice to discourage people from voting in the state’s presidential primary last month.
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. It also opens the door for call recipients to file lawsuits and gives state attorneys general a new mechanism to crack down on violators, according to the FCC.
The agency’s chairwoman, Jessica Rosenworcel, said bad actors have been using AI-generated voices in robocalls to misinform voters, impersonate celebrities and extort from family members.
Under the consumer protection law, telemarketers generally cannot use automated dialers or artificial or prerecorded voice messages to call cellphones, and they cannot make such calls to landlines without written consent from the recipient.
The new ruling classifies AI-generated voices in robocalls as “artificial” and thus enforceable by the same standards, the FCC said.
Those who break the law can face steep fines, with a maximum of more than $23,000 per call, the FCC said. The agency has previously used the consumer law to clamp down on robocallers interfering in elections, including imposing a $5-million fine on two conservative hoaxers for falsely warning people in predominantly Black areas that voting by mail could heighten their risk of arrest, debt collection and forced vaccination.
The law also gives call recipients the right to take legal action and potentially recover up to $1,500 in damages for each unwanted call.
Sophisticated generative AI tools, from voice-cloning software to image generators, already are in use in elections in the U.S. and around the world.
Last year, as the U.S. presidential race got underway, several campaign ads used AI-generated audio or imagery, and some candidates experimented with using AI chatbots to communicate with voters. Bipartisan efforts in Congress have sought to regulate AI in political campaigns, but no federal legislation has passed.