FCC Recognizes Robocalls Made Using AI as “Artificial,” Requiring Consumers’ Prior Express Consent, Disclosure, and Opt-Out Mechanisms; Effective Immediately
Today, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC, Commission) unanimously adopted a Declaratory Ruling that recognizes calls made with AI-generated voices as “artificial” under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), effective immediately.
In this Declaratory Ruling, the FCC confirms that the TCPA’s restrictions on the use of “artificial or prerecorded voice” encompass current and burgeoning AI technologies that resemble human voices and/or generate call content using a prerecorded voice. As a result, calls that use such technologies fall under the TCPA and the Commission’s implementing rules, and therefore require the prior express consent of the called party to initiate such calls absent an emergency purpose or exemption.
According to the FCC, AI technologies such as “voice cloning” (or voice deepfakes) fall within the TCPA’s existing prohibition on artificial or prerecorded voice messages because this technology artificially simulates a human voice.
The FCC’s logic behind finding AI voice calls “artificial” voice messages is that “a person is not speaking them, and, as a result, when used, they represent the types of calls the TCPA seeks to protect consumers from.” With regard to AI technologies that communicate with consumers using prerecorded voice messages, the FCC concludes that those calls are “using” a “prerecorded voice” within the meaning of the TCPA.
In hoping that this finding will deter negative uses of AI, the FCC also clarifies that “the TCPA does not allow for any carve out of technologies that purport to provide the equivalent of a live agent, thus preventing unscrupulous businesses from attempting to exploit any perceived ambiguity” in the TCPA rules.
The FCC makes it abundantly clear that callers that use AI voice technologies must obtain the prior express consent of the called party to initiate such calls absent an emergency purpose or exemption. In addition, the FCC 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.
The TCPA provides the FCC with civil enforcement authority to fine unlawful robocallers. The Commission can also take steps to block calls from telephone carriers facilitating illegal robocalls. In addition, the TCPA allows individual consumers or an organization to bring a lawsuit against robocallers in court. Lastly, State Attorneys General have their own enforcement tools which may be tied to robocall definitions under the TCPA.
This Declaratory Ruling follows the FCC’s November Notice of Inquiry, which sought to gather insights on combating illegal robocalls and the potential involvement of AI. The FCC inquired about the use of AI in scams, particularly those imitating familiar voices, and explored whether such technology should be subject to TCPA oversight. The FCC also sought input on how AI could be harnessed for positive outcomes, such as recognizing illegal robocalls before they reach consumers.
The FCC’s move reflects its commitment to addressing the deceptive and manipulative marketing tactics associated with AI in robocalls, ensuring consumers have the ability to provide prior written consent before receiving calls featuring AI technology as a live agent.
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