Democrats sound alarm over AI robocall to voters mimicking Biden

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A prominent New Hampshire Democrat said the makers of a robocall mimicking the voice of Joe Biden and encouraging Democrats not to vote in the primary on Tuesday should be “prosecuted to the fullest extent” for attempting “an attack on democracy” itself.

“I want them to be prosecuted to the fullest extent possible because this is an attack on democracy,” Kathy Sullivan, a former state party chair, told NBC News, adding that as an attorney, she believes the call could break several laws.

“I’m not going to let it go. I want to know who’s paying for it? Who knew about it? Who benefits?”

As an investigation began, the New Hampshire attorney general, John Formella, said voters should “disregard the contents of this message entirely”.

NBC released a recording of the call.

“What a bunch of malarkey,” it began, using a term so characteristic of the 81-year-old president it has been widely used in merchandising and meme-making.

“You know the value of voting Democratic,” the voice said. “Our votes count. It’s important that you save your vote for the November election. We’ll need your help in electing Democrats up and down the ticket.

“Voting this Tuesday only enables the Republicans in their quest to elect Donald Trump again. Your vote makes a difference in November, not this Tuesday. If you would like to be removed from future calls, please press two now.”

Sullivan’s phone number was included.

Biden’s name will not be on the Democratic ballot on Tuesday, because New Hampshire went against an official reorganisation of the primary calendar which placed South Carolina first.

Sullivan leads Granite for America, a Super Pac evoking New Hampshire’s “Granite state” nickname and urging Democrats to back Biden as a write-in candidate.

Sullivan told NBC she had received calls citing the supposed message from Biden, including one from a woman who said the president had called her.

Whoever made the robocall “obviously … wants to hurt Joe Biden”, Sullivan said.

In a statement, Sullivan added: “This call links back to my personal cellphone number without my permission. It is outright election interference, and clearly an attempt to harass me and other New Hampshire voters who are planning to write-in Joe Biden on Tuesday.”

A spokesperson for Dean Phillips, the Minnesota congressman mounting an outsider bid for the Democratic nomination, told NBC: “Any effort to discourage voters is disgraceful and an unacceptable affront to democracy. The potential use of AI to manipulate voters is deeply disturbing.”

On Saturday, OpenAI, the maker of the ChatGPT artificial intelligence tool, told the Washington Post it had banned the maker of a bot that mimicked Phillips and was commissioned by a Super Pac supporting him.

“We recently removed a developer account that was knowingly violating our API usage policies which disallow political campaigning, or impersonating an individual without consent,” OpenAI said.

The Biden campaign did not comment on the New Hampshire call. A Trump campaign spokesperson told NBC: “Not us, we have nothing to do with it.”

News of the deepfake call comes amid a push for the federal government to regulate the use of such technology in campaigns. Outside groups, academics and some politicians have flagged concerns that AI could create chaos during elections at a time when US voters are susceptible to misinformation.

A petition from advocacy group Public Citizen calls on the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to regulate the use of AI in campaign ads.

The FEC chair, Sean Cooksey, told the Washington Post the agency is working on making rules for AI and reviewing public comments submitted after the petition was filed. But he said the agency would not resolve the issue until “early summer”, well into the campaign season.

Public Citizen has accused the FEC of “slow-walking the issue” and called on Congress to act.

“The political deepfake moment is here,” the Public Citizen president, Robert Weissman, said in a press release on Monday. “Policymakers must rush to put in place protections or we’re facing electoral chaos. The New Hampshire deepfake is a reminder of the many ways that deepfakes can sow confusion and perpetuate fraud.”

While the federal government figures out what, if anything, to do about AI in campaign ads, some state lawmakers have filed bills to address the practice.

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