Authorities target two Texas firms in probe of AI-generated robocalls before New Hampshire's primary

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Authorities issued cease−and−desist orders Tuesday against two Texas companies they believe were connected to robocalls that used artificial intelligence to mimic President Joe Biden’s voice and discourage people from voting in New Hampshire’s first−in−the−nation primary last month.

New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella said investigators have identified the source of the calls as Life Corporation and said they were transmitted by a company called Lingo Telecom. New Hampshire issued cease−and−desist orders and subpoenas to both companies, while the Federal Communications Commission issued a cease−and−desist letter to the telecommunications company, Formella said. In a statement, the FCC said it was trying to stop “behavior that violates voter suppression laws.”

During a news conference to discuss the investigation, Formella described the calls as the clearest and possibly first known attempt to use AI to interfere with an election in the U.S.

“That’s been something we’ve been concerned about in the law enforcement community for a while, and it’s certainly something that state attorneys general have talked about, but we had not seen as concrete of an example as this, days before a primary,” he said.

A message left for Life Corporation’s owner, Walter Monk, at his company Wholesale Communication was not immediately returned. Alex Valencia, who was named in an FCC letter as the chief compliance officer at Lingo Telecom, did not immediately return an emailed request for comment.

The recorded message was sent to between 5,000 and 25,000 voters two days before the Jan. 23 primary. It used a voice similar to Biden’s, employed his often−used phrase, “What a bunch of malarkey” and falsely suggested that voting in the primary would preclude voters from casting a ballot in November’s general election.

Biden won the Democratic primary as a write−in candidate after he kept his name off the ballot in deference to South Carolina’s new lead−off position for the Democratic primaries.

The calls falsely showed up to recipients as coming from the personal cellphone number of Kathy Sullivan, a former state Democratic Party chair who helps run Granite for America, a super PAC that supported the Biden write−in campaign. Formella said at least 10 people who received the calls then called Sullivan.

The apparent attempt at voter suppression using rapidly advancing generative AI technology is one example of what experts warn will make 2024 a year of unprecedented election disinformation around the world. Formella said the investigation is just beginning, but he wanted to send a strong message to deter others who might be tempted to interfere in this year’s elections.

“Our message is clear: Law enforcement across the country is unified on a bipartisan basis and ready to work together to combat any attempt to undermine our elections,” he said.


Swenson reported from New York.

Holly Ramer And Ali Swenson, The Associated Press

Photo: AP