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Aiming to curb the use of AI, voice cloning technology in robocall scams, on February 8, 2024, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a unanimous declaratory ruling prohibiting unsolicited robocalls with voices generated by AI. With its ruling, which took effect immediately, the FCC made clear that the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) – meant to curb junk phone calls – also outlaws unsolicited AI-generated robocalls.

Robocalls are any call made using an artificial or prerecorded voice or made using an automatic telephone dialing system. AI enhances the capabilities of robocalls, making them more sophisticated and deceptive. With the advent of generative AI, scammers can generate messages that sound exactly like a person from just a small voice print from that person. AI-enabled voice cloning allows scammers to mimic the voices of real individuals, including celebrities, politicians, or family members. AI also allows for personalized and targeted robocalls by analyzing data about individuals obtained from social media and other sources. Voice cloning and personalization can make robocalls more convincing and increase the likelihood of tricking individuals into providing sensitive information and can contribute to identity theft or financial scams.

In its decision, the FCC declared that the TCPA’s restrictions on the use of an “artificial or prerecorded voice” without consent apply to AI technologies that resemble human voices and/or generate call content using a prerecorded voice. The FCC now can fine violators at more than $23,000 per call and block the telephone companies that carry the unwanted calls. The FCC’s ruling also provides state attorneys general with new means to pursue legal action against bad actors. While the FCC’s ruling does not create a blanket ban on AI-generated phone calls, it does mean that callers using such technology must obtain the prior express consent of the receiving party to initiate such a call.

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said that anyone could be on the receiving end of AI-scams. “Already we see this happening with Tom Hanks hawking dental plans online, a vile video featuring Taylor Swift, and calls from candidates for political office that are designed to confuse us about where and when to vote,” she said. “With this Declaratory Ruling, we will have another tool to go after voice cloning scams and get this junk off the line.”

The FCC has moved rapidly to address AI-generated robocalls. In November 2023, the Commission launched an inquiry into how it could curb the effects of AI on unwanted and illegal calls using the TCPA. And in December 2023, the FCC issued a memorandum of understanding with 48 attorneys general to investigate robocall scam campaigns and “build a record against possible bad actors.”

As AI facilitates an evolution of robocalls into more sophisticated and deceptive tools, we expect to see an increase in regulatory efforts to combat the rising wave of unwanted calls, as well as heightened public awareness campaigns and litigation to protect consumers.

If you have any questions about the FCC’s AI robocall ruling, please contact a Sheppard Mullin attorney. The firm has also recently launched an Artificial Intelligence industry group.