FCC Makes AI-generated Voices in Robocalls Illegal

Published by SIW.com, 2/8/24

Today the Federal Communications Commission announced the unanimous adoption of a Declaratory Ruling that recognizes calls made with AI-generated voices are “artificial” under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA).

The ruling, which takes effect immediately, makes voice cloning technology used in common robocall scams targeting consumers illegal.  This would give State Attorneys General across the country new tools to go after bad actors behind these nefarious robocalls.

“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,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.  “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 rise of these types of calls has escalated during the last few years as this technology now has the potential to confuse consumers with misinformation by imitating the voices of celebrities, political candidates, and close family members.

While currently State Attorneys Generals can target the outcome of an unwanted AI-voice generated robocall—such as the scam or fraud they are seeking to perpetrate—this action now makes the act of using AI to generate the voice in these robocalls itself illegal, expanding the legal avenues through which state law enforcement agencies can hold these perpetrators accountable under the law.

In November of 2023, the FCC launched a Notice of Inquiry to build a record on how the agency can combat illegal robocalls and how AI might be involved. The agency asked questions on how AI might be used for scams that arise out of junk calls, by mimicking the voices of those we know, and whether this technology should be subject to oversight under the TCPA.

Similarly, the FCC also asked about how AI can help us with pattern recognition so that we turn this technology into a force for good that can recognize illegal robocalls before they ever reach consumers on the phone.

The Telephone Consumer Protection Act is the primary law the FCC uses to help limit junk calls.  It restricts the making of telemarketing calls and the use of automatic telephone dialing systems and artificial or prerecorded voice messages. Under FCC rules, it also requires telemarketers to obtain prior express written consent from consumers before robocalling them. This Declaratory Ruling ensures AI-generated voices in calls are also held to those same standards.

The TCPA gives the FCC civil enforcement authority to fine robocallers. The Commission can also take steps to block calls from telephone carriers facilitating illegal robocalls. In addition, the TCPA allows individual consumers or an organization to bring a lawsuit against robocallers in court.  Lastly, State Attorneys General have their own enforcement tools which may be tied to robocall definitions under the TCPA.

A coalition of 26 State Attorneys General—more than half of the nation’s AGs—recently wrote to the FCC supporting this approach.  By taking this step, the FCC is building on its work to establish partnerships with law enforcement agencies in states across the country to identify and eliminate illegal robocalls.

These partnerships can provide critical resources for building cases and coordinating efforts to protect consumers and businesses nationwide. The FCC offers partner states not only the expertise of its enforcement staff but also important resources and remedies to support state investigations.

The FCC currently has a Memorandum of Understanding with 48 State Attorneys General to work together to combat robocalls.

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