U.S. Restricts AI Robocalls U.S. cracks down on AI-generated voice robocalls to combat election interference.

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U.S. Restricts AI Robocalls: U.S. cracks down on AI-generated voice robocalls to combat election interference.

The United States outlawed unsolicited phone calls that use AI-generated voices. 

What’s new: The Federal Communications Commission ruled that the current legal restriction on voice communications that use “artificial or prerecorded voices” covers AI-powered voice generation. The ruling followed an incident in which calls that featured the cloned voice of U.S. President Biden were delivered with the apparent intent of interfering with an election.

How it works: The ruling interprets the 1991 Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which controls automated calls, or robocalls. The law gives state attorneys general the power to prosecute robocallers. The FCC had proposed the move in January. 

  • The ruling restricts calls to residential phone numbers that feature synthesized voices.
  • It covers all such calls whether or not they are deceptive or annoying, and applies equally to synthetic voices that mimic real voices and those that don’t.
  • Synthetic voices are allowed only if the recipient has given prior consent or in an emergency. Calls that convey an advertisement or marketing message must provide an opportunity to opt out, and those that feature artificial voices must identify the entity that initiated the call.

Behind the news: In January, two days before a presidential primary election, thousands of members of the Democratic Party in the state of New Hampshire received phone calls in which a cloned voice of President Biden, who is a Democrat, urged them not to vote in a presidential primary election. The call used voice cloning software from Eleven Labs, according to researchers cited by Wired. New Hampshire investigated the calls as a case of illegal voter suppression. It traced them to two telecommunications companies in the state of Texas and issued cease-and-desist orders and subpoenas to both firms. One, Lingo Telecom, said it is cooperating with federal and state investigators.

Why it matters: For all its productive uses, generative AI offers fresh opportunities to scammers to deceive their marks into handing over things of value. Voice cloning can elevate their appeal by simulating personal, business, political, and other relationships. Election officials are especially concerned about AI’s potential to influence voting, especially as we enter a year that will see over 100 elections in seven of the 10 most populous nations.

We’re thinking: The question of how to safeguard elections against manipulations like the Biden robocall is an urgent one. Devising a tamper-resistant watermark that identifies generated output would discourage misuse. However, providers will have a financial incentive not to apply such watermarks unless regulators require it. 


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