Political operative and firms behind Biden AI robocall sued for thousands

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A political operative and two companies that facilitated a fake robocall using AI to impersonate Joe Biden should be required to pay thousands of dollars in damages and should be barred from taking similar future actions, a group of New Hampshire voters and a civic action group said in a federal lawsuit filed on Thursday.

The suit comes weeks after Steve Kramer, a political operative, admitted that he was behind the robocall that spoofed Biden’s voice on the eve of the New Hampshire primary and urged Democrats in the state not to vote. Kramer was working for Biden’s challenger Dean Phillips, but Phillips’s campaign said he had nothing to do with the call and Kramer has said he did it as an act of civil disobedience to draw attention to the dangers of AI in elections. The incident may have been the first time AI was used to interfere in a US election.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs – three New Hampshire voters who received the calls and the League of Women Voters, a voting rights group – said they believed it was the first lawsuit of its kind seeking redress for using AI in robocalls in elections. The New Hampshire attorney general’s office is investigating the matter.

Two Texas companies, Life Corporation and Lingo Telecom, also helped facilitate the calls.

“If Defendants are not permanently enjoined from deploying AI-generated robocalls, there is a strong likelihood that it will happen again,” the lawsuit says.

The plaintiffs say Kramer and the two companies violated a provision of the Voting Rights Act that prohibits voter intimidation as well a ban in the Telephone Consumer Protection Act on delivering a prerecorded call to someone without their consent. They also say the calls violated New Hampshire state laws that require disclosure of the source of politically related calls.

The plaintiffs are seeking up to $7,500 in damages for each plaintiff that received a call that violated federal and state law. The recorded call was sent to anywhere between 5,000 and 25,000 people.

“It’s really imperative that we address the threat that these defendants are creating for voters,” Courtney Hostetler, a lawyer with the civic action group Free Speech for People, which is helping represent the plaintiffs, said in a press call with reporters on Thursday.

“The other hope of this lawsuit is that it will demonstrate to other people who might attempt similar campaigns that this is illegal, that there are parties out there like the League of Women Voters who are prepared to challenge this sort of illegal voter intimidation, and these illegal deceptive practices, hopefully make them think twice before they do the same,” she added.

NBC News reported Kramer paid a street magician in New Orleans $150 to create the call using a script Kramer prepared.

“This is a way for me to make a difference, and I have,” he said in the interview last month. “For $500, I got about $5m worth of action, whether that be media attention or regulatory action.”

Mark Herring, a former Virginia attorney general who is helping represent the plaintiffs, told reporters on Thursday that kind of justification was “self-serving”.

“Regardless of the motivation, the intent here was to suppress the vote, and to threaten and coerce voters into not voting out of fear that they might lose their right to vote,” he said.

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