We can use AI to fight predatory robocalls, experts tell senators

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WASHINGTON — Senators took a bipartisan stance against abusive robocalling on Tuesday, appealing to experts for enforcement measures as more scammers employ deceptive artificial intelligence.

Witnesses told the Senate Commerce’s Subcommittee on Communications, Media and Broadband that generative AI can also work in regulators’ favor.

Mike Rudolph, chief technology officer for robocall-blocking firm YouMail, Inc., said the AI could flag insufficient mitigation controls in the Federal Communications Commission’s Robocall Mitigation Database.

Senators noted phone providers that have not implemented caller ID authentication avoid accountability for robocalls by submitting incomplete or blank documentation — and even restaurant menus — to the database. “That’s a great place where you could apply that [AI] technology and probably discard half the entries in the database in an afternoon or a week of work,” Rudolph said.

Sen. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., chair of the subcommittee, said robocalls have eroded the public’s trust in the nation’s communications networks.

“Many have become subject to those phishing attacks from those robo-texts as well, which are costing the American people billions of dollars,” he later added.

The subcommittee hearing came as the Senate, led by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., held its second AI Insights Forum on Capitol Hill to address AI regulation, including combating advanced scamming tools such as digital voice generation.

How do robocall scammers use AI?

A 2023 report by digital security company McAfee revealed that 52% of Americans share their voices online at least once a week. Scammers grab these samples to produce digitally generated versions of speaking voices.

“It’s really, really unsettling, especially to older people who think they may be getting a call from a grandchild or a son or a daughter and they have to pick it up and figure out what’s going on,” said Sen. Peter Welch, D-Vt.

Witnesses also advised the Senate to press the Federal Communications Commission to continue mandating written consent from consumers for prerecorded robocalls from telemarketers.

The commission has recently proposed walking back protections under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act regarding written consent, said Margot Saunders, a senior counsel with the National Consumer Law Center.

“We have been pushing the FCC for months now to simply reiterate that the language in its current regulation means what it says,” Saunders said. Under the 2012 revision of the TCPA, the FCC requires telemarketers to obtain prior “express written consent.”

Recently proposed regulations “would not require writing” for some calls, she added.

“I can’t tell you why they’re issued, why they’re proposed,” Saunders said. “What I can say is that if you could encourage the FCC not to proceed in this way, it would be beneficial.”

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