AI Generated Human Voices in Robocalls are Unlawful

In a Declaratory Ruling in Docket 23-362, released on February 8, 2024, the FCC unanimously found that calls made with AI-generated voices are “artificial” and therefore unlawful under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA).  The ruling is effective immediately and will provide state attorneys general with a new weapon to pursue the bad actors in our industry using artificial intelligence to generate robocall scams.

The TCPA protects consumers from unwanted calls made using an artificial or prerecorded voice.  It prohibits initiating:

any telephone call to any residential telephone line using an artificial or prerecorded voice to deliver a message without the prior express consent of the called party” unless a statutory exception applies, or the call is “exempted by rule or order by the Commission under [section 227(b)(2)(B)].”  The TCPA also prohibits, without the prior express consent of the called party, any non-emergency call made using an automatic telephone dialing system or an artificial or prerecorded voice to certain specified categories of telephone numbers including emergency lines and wireless numbers. (Declaratory Ruling, at para. 3).

The events leading to this Ruling include the November Notice of Inquiry (NOI) released by the FCC seeking to better understand the implications of emerging AI technologies in its duty to protect consumers from unwanted and illegal telephone calls and text messages.  It determined its authority includes regulating the use of AI in robocalling and robotexting when AI imitates human speech (voice cloning) and interacts “with consumers as though they were live human callers when generating voice and text messages.”

Thus, in its Ruling, the agency declares:

“The TCPA’s restrictions on the use of “artificial or prerecorded voice” encompass current AI technologies that resemble human voices and/or generate call content using a prerecorded voice.

Therefore, callers must obtain prior express consent from the called party before making a call that utilizes artificial or prerecorded voice simulated or generated through AI technology.

The Commission also recognized in the AI NOI the potential for AI technologies to communicate with consumers using prerecorded voice messages.  When this occurs, the FCC concludes that the call is “using” a “prerecorded voice” within the meaning of the TCPA and such calls are prohibited.”

As a result of this ruling, callers that use such technologies must obtain the prior express consent of the called party to initiate such calls absent an emergency purpose or exemption. 

In addition, our rules require that all artificial or prerecorded voice messages must provide certain identification and disclosure information for the entity responsible for initiating the call. In every case where the artificial or prerecorded voice message includes or introduces an advertisement or constitutes telemarketing, it must also offer specified opt-out methods for the called party to make a request to stop calling that telephone number.  These requirements are applicable to any AI technology that initiates any outbound telephone call using an artificial or prerecorded voice to consumers. (Id., para 9).

As FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks points out in a Statement supporting the Declaratory Ruling, the entire government is suddenly attempting to deal with the implications of AI.

President Biden issued a landmark executive order aimed at seizing the promise and managing the risks of AI. Senator Schumer has convened nine bipartisan AI insight forums, bringing together leading minds to advise Congress broadly on AI’s impact from the workforce to national security.  Legislators have introduced bills addressing the use of AI in dozens of contexts, including election integrity: in fact, a bipartisan group of senators have introduced legislation that would ban the use of AI to generate content falsely depicting federal candidates to influence an election, and comprehensive robocall legislation announced just days ago would double the statutory penalty for calls using AI to impersonate an individual or entity with the intent to defraud.

The Federal Trade Commission just finished accepting submissions for its Voice Cloning Challenge – an effort to encourage products, policies, and procedures aimed at protecting consumers from AI-enabled voice cloning harms. The Federal Election Commission has sought comment on prohibiting the deceptive use of AI in campaign advertisements.

Frankly, we are only at the infancy stage of AI affecting our industry.  We have certainly come a long way from the days of WATS lines and Time Division Multiplexing (TDM)!