Political advisor, telecom, fined $8M for Biden deepfake robocalls

A political consultant was indicted by the feds on Thursday for sending a deepfake recording of President Joe Biden’s voice to thousands of New Hampshire voters – and now the telecom company that allowed the robocalls to take place could be fined $2 million for failing to stop them.

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said the consultant, 54-year-old Steven Kramer from Louisiana, carried out an AI-generated deceptive robocall scheme to dissuade New Hampshire residents from voting in the state’s Democratic primary.

Kramer now faces a $6 million fine for the Biden deepfakes and connected caller ID spoofing. The FCC announced the indictment on Thursday in collaboration with the New Hampshire Attorney General's Office.

In the first case of its kind for the FCC, Kramer, who blasted the thousands of fake calls just two days before the primary took place, was charged with 13 felony counts of voter suppression and misdemeanor impersonation of a candidate.

“We will act swiftly and decisively to ensure that bad actors cannot use US telecommunications networks to facilitate the misuse of generative AI technology to interfere with elections, defraud consumers, or compromise sensitive data,” said Loyaan A. Egal, Chief of the Enforcement Bureau and chair of the Privacy and Data Protection Task Force.

Caller ID spoofing illegal

The alleged AI recording urged the ‘Live Free or Die’ residents to hold off casting their votes until the November election, a blatant attempt to disrupt the primary process.

Additionally, Lingo Telecom – the telecommunication carrier that allowed the calls to go through – is facing a proposed $2 million fine for its part in the alleged transmissions.

Turns out the inaccurate and misleading calls also transmitted the caller ID number of an unknowing local political operative – a violation of the FCC’s caller ID authentication rules.

According to the FCC, Lingo Telecom failed to follow “Know Your Customer” principles, which makes it illegal to transmit calls without the proper caller ID information.

The telecom was also accused of making little effort to verify the accuracy of the information, which would involve the use of the FCC-mandated STIR/SHAKEN standards.

The STIR/SHAKEN tool serves as a digital identifier, allowing tracebacks of suspicious calls, which not only supports reliability for consumers but also allows other phone carriers to block the spam calls, the FCC states.

Election Deepfakes are major concern

The FCC has warned that AI is expected to play a significant role in the upcoming 2024 presidential and congressional elections, raising the stakes for ensuring election integrity and transparency.

Worries that AI-generated content could mislead voters have spurred some senators in Washington to push for legislation to address the threats in the lead-up to November.

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel proposed a new rule on Wednesday. This rule would require political ads on radio and TV to disclose if they contain AI-generated content.

"New Hampshire remains committed to ensuring that our elections remain free from unlawful interference, and our investigation into this matter remains ongoing," said New Hampshire’s Attorney General John Formella.

Formella said he hopes Thursday’s actions "send a strong deterrent signal to anyone who might consider interfering with elections, whether through the use of artificial intelligence or otherwise."