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2 Feb, 2024 20:51

US regulators propose robocall ban after ‘voter suppression’ scam

Unknown culprits faked President Joe Biden’s voice in a bid to disrupt the New Hampshire primary election
US regulators propose robocall ban after ‘voter suppression’ scam

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has said that it will ban AI-generated scam “robocalls” after New Hampshire residents were contacted by a computer-generated Joe Biden urging them to sit out the state’s Democratic primary election.

In a statement released on Wednesday, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said that she will instruct her agency to recognize calls made with AI-generated voices as “artificial,” thereby subjecting them to the same rules that already govern pre-recorded “robocalls.”

Under the FCC’s Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), telemarketers must obtain prior consent from consumers before calling them with “artificial” messages. Should AI-generated voices be classed as “artificial,” state attorneys general could prosecute the companies or organizations responsible. 

“AI-generated voice cloning and images are already sowing confusion by tricking consumers into thinking scams and frauds are legitimate,” Rosenworcel said. “No matter what celebrity or politician you favor, or what your relationship is with your kin when they call for help, it is possible we could all be a target of these faked calls.”

Although Rosenworcel did not mention the incident, her statement came less than two weeks after voters in New Hampshire received calls from a voice impersonating President Joe Biden. In the recording ‘Biden’ tells voters to “save” their votes and not go to the polls during the primary.

“It’s important that you save your vote for the November election. We’ll need your help in electing Democrats up and down the ticket,” the AI-voiced message said. “Voting this Tuesday only enables Republicans in their quest to elect Donald Trump again.”

It remains unclear who was behind the calls, which New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella called “an unlawful attempt to disrupt the New Hampshire Presidential Primary Election and to suppress New Hampshire voters.”

Researchers said last week that the culprits likely spoofed Biden’s voice using software from a voice-cloning startup called ElevenLabs. The company’s safety policy states that users usually do not need to seek permission to clone a public official’s voice for “political speech contributing to public debates.”