On February 8, 2024, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) released a groundbreaking Declaratory Ruling, for the first time deterring the use of AI-generated voices under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”). This is one of the first ways in which we have seen the federal government protecting consumers in the realm of artificial intelligence technologies. By declaring AI-generated voices unlawful under the TCPA, the FCC hopes to deter negative uses of AI and ensure that consumers are fully protected by the TCPA when they receive such calls.
According to the Declaratory Ruling, AI-generated voices are considered “artificial” voices or voice messages under the TCPA “because 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.” However, the Declaratory Ruling further concludes that where AI technologies communicate with consumers using prerecorded voice messages the call is “using” a “prerecorded voice” within the meaning of the TCPA.
Accordingly, under the TCPA, the FCC has declared that certain telemarketing calls initiated using an AI-generated voice must obtain the prior express consent of the called party unless a specific exemption or exception is met, such as a call initiated for emergency purposes or to collect a debt owed. Certain calls must also provide specified identification and disclosure information regarding the entity initiating the call, and, where the call constitutes telemarketing or advertisement, must offer certain opt-out methods for the called party. The prohibitions under the TCPA also apply to any AI technology that initiates any outbound telephone call to consumers using an artificial or prerecorded voice, regardless of the AI technology used and regardless of whether the AI technology generates a human voice.
The FCC’s adoption of the Declaratory Ruling, while groundbreaking in effect, still comes as no surprise, given that less than three months prior the Commission launched an Inquiry that publicly sought to better understand the impact of emerging AI technologies. This public Inquiry was part of the FCC’s initiative to learn more about AI technologies for the purpose of “protect[ing] consumers from unwanted and illegal telephone calls and text messages.” According to the FCC, in response to the Notice of Inquiry, no commenter had opposed the conclusions that are in the Declaratory Ruling; in fact, several commenters had asked the FCC to confirm that AI-generated human voices and/or prerecorded voices should be considered an “artificial or prerecorded voice” for purposes of the TCPA.