Robocalls, a Thing of the Past?

Written by Estero Bay News

February 1, 2024

Answering a call from an unknown number could soon come with a lot less trepidation. 

A coalition of 26 attorneys, including California Attorney General Rob Bonta have filed a comment letter responding to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) notice of inquiry related to the potential impact of emerging artificial intelligence (AI) technology on efforts to protect consumers from illegal robocalls or robotexts. 

“In addition to being a daily annoyance, robocalls are often used by scammers to cause real financial damage,” said Bonta in a news release. “AI technology presents opportunities for new levels of deception by bad actors. The FCC should take this opportunity to underscore that existing laws, like the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, can be used to protect consumers against this threat. Classifying AI-generated human voices as a type of artificial voice is a step in the right direction in preventing consumers from receiving unwanted and potentially dangerous robocalls.”

The multistate coalition argues that AI-generated technologies that mimic human voices are a form of “artificial voice” as that term is used in the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, and that consumers therefore cannot be sent AI-generated robocalls that mimic a live caller without the consumer’s prior express written consent.

For Californians, the impact of illegal and unwanted robocalls can range from a momentary nuisance to serious fraud involving identity theft or life-changing financial losses. Phone calls and text messages are by far the most common contact method for fraud, and in 2022 alone, fraudulent phone calls and texts led to more than $1.13 billion in reported financial losses nationwide, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

In the comment letter, the attorneys general argue that considering AI-generated human voices an “artificial voice” is consistent with the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, and with the FCC’s treatment of prior technological developments. Robocalls are typically the number-one consumer complaint to the FTC each year. AI technology has the potential to make phone scams more sophisticated and believable, as scammers have already begun using the technology to mimic live voices, including those of celebrities and distressed family members. 

In January 2022, Attorney General Bonta, as part of a bipartisan multistate coalition, urged the FCC to stop the flood of illegal foreign-based robocalls that “spoof” U.S. phone numbers. In August 2022,  Bonta announced the launch of a bipartisan nationwide Anti-Robocall Litigation Task Force to investigate and take legal action against the telecommunications companies responsible for bringing a majority of foreign robocalls into the U.S. In May 2023, a bipartisan coalition of 49 attorneys general, announced a lawsuit against Avid Telecom for allegedly initiating and facilitating billions of unlawful robocalls that included Social Security Administration scams, Medicare scams, and employment scams.  

In filing the comment letter, Bonta joins the attorneys general of Pennsylvania, Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia. 

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