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A political consultant faces charges and fines for Biden deepfake robocalls

Voters filling out their ballots on Jan. 23, 2024 in Loudon, New Hampshire. A political consultant faces charges in New Hampshire and steep fines from the Federal Communications Commission for creating a robocall ahead of that state's presidential primary featuring a cloned version of President Joe Biden's voice, urging people not to vote in the primary.
Tasos Katopodis
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Getty Images North America
Voters filling out their ballots on Jan. 23, 2024 in Loudon, New Hampshire. A political consultant faces charges in New Hampshire and steep fines from the Federal Communications Commission for creating a robocall ahead of that state's presidential primary featuring a cloned version of President Joe Biden's voice, urging people not to vote in the primary.

The Democratic political consultant behind a robocall that used artificial intelligence to impersonate President Biden is facing a steep federal fine and criminal charges in New Hampshire.

The Federal Communications Commission proposed a $6 million fine against Steve Kramer, who has admitted to commissioning the fake call sent to thousands of people in New Hampshire on the eve of the state's January primary. On the other end was a AI-generated voice that sounded like Biden and discouraged Democrats from voting.

Kramer has also been indicted on criminal charges in four New Hampshire counties, including 13 counts of voter suppression, a felony, and 13 counts of impersonating a candidate, a misdemeanor.

“I hope that our respective enforcement actions send a strong deterrent signal to anyone who might consider interfering with elections, whether through the use of artificial intelligence or otherwise," New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella said in a statement announcing the charges.

The Biden deepfake is the most high-profile example of how the rapid proliferation of generative artificial intelligence, which can quickly and easily produce realistic audio, video, images and text, is creating new avenues for fraud, scams and manipulation.

"This is unnerving," FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel said on Thursday of the New Hampshire robocall. "Because when a caller sounds like a politician you know, a celebrity you like, or a family member who is familiar, any one of us could be tricked into believing something that is not true with calls using AI technology."

The FCC ruled in February that using AI-generated voices in robocall is illegal.

In its announcement of the proposed fine, the FCC said Kramer violated federal law by spoofing the number of a local political figure. Kramer will have a chance to respond and offer evidence before the FCC issues a final decision. The agency also proposed a $2 million fine against Lingo Telecom, the company accused of transmitting the robocall.

Neither Kramer nor Lingo responded to requests for comment. Kramer has said he created the deepfake as a warning about the dangers of AI.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Shannon Bond is a business correspondent at NPR, covering technology and how Silicon Valley's biggest companies are transforming how we live, work and communicate.
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