The Federal Communication Commission is moving forward with its plan to ban AI robocalls. Commissioners voted unanimously on Wednesday in favor of a Declaratory Ruling that was proposed in late January. Under the measure, the FCC deems robocalls made using AI-generated voices to be "artificial" voices per the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). That makes the practice illegal. The ruling takes effect immediately.
“Bad actors are using AI-generated voices in unsolicited robocalls to extort vulnerable family members, imitate celebrities and misinform voters. We’re putting the fraudsters behind these robocalls on notice,” FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement. “State Attorneys General will now have new tools to crack down on these scams and ensure the public is protected from fraud and misinformation.”
The TCPA is a 1991 law that bans artificial or recorded voices being used to call residences without the receivers' consent. It's up to the FCC to create rules to enforce that legislation, as Ars Technica notes. As the FCC pointed out last month, under the TCPA, telemarketers need "to obtain prior express written consent from consumers before robocalling them. If successfully enacted, this Declaratory Ruling would ensure AI-generated voice calls are also held to those same standards."
The FCC vote in favor of the ban comes at somewhat of an inflection point for AI. Not only have such technologies become vastly more widespread over the last year or so, an AI-generated version of President Joe Biden's voice was used in a recent robocall that urged Democrats not to vote in New Hampshire's Presidential primary. A criminal investigation into that incident is underway.
Given that we're in an election year and the volume of misinformation and disinformation is already likely to rise, clamping down on AI robocalls now seems like a wise move. While stage AGs can take action against robocallers, the FCC also has the ability to fine them under the TCPA. Last year, the agency issued its largest ever fine of $300 million last year against a company that made more than 5 billion robocalls in a three-month period.