AG: Biden robocall during NH primary came from Texas company

FILE - President Joe Biden speaks in the East Room, Jan. 19, 2024, in Washington. The New Hampshire attorney general's office says it is investigating reports of an apparent robocall that used artificial intelligence to mimic Biden's voice and discourage voters in the state from participating in the primary election on Tuesday, Jan. 23. Attorney General John Formella said Monday, Jan. 22, that the recorded message that was sent Sunday appears to be an illegal attempt to disrupt and...

FILE - President Joe Biden speaks in the East Room, Jan. 19, 2024, in Washington. The New Hampshire attorney general's office says it is investigating reports of an apparent robocall that used artificial intelligence to mimic Biden's voice and discourage voters in the state from participating in the primary election on Tuesday, Jan. 23. Attorney General John Formella said Monday, Jan. 22, that the recorded message that was sent Sunday appears to be an illegal attempt to disrupt and... Evan Vucci

By DAVID BROOKS

Monitor staff

Published: 02-06-2024 11:45 AM

Modified: 02-06-2024 5:06 PM


The robocalls that imitated President Joe Biden telling people not to bother voting in New Hampshire’s presidential primary were generated by a Texas-based public relations firm called Life Corporation “and an individual named Walter Monk,” according to the state Attorney General’s Office, which has issued a cease-and-desist order against them.

“The Attorney General is continuing to investigate whether Life Corporation worked with or at the direction of any other persons or entities,” the Attorney General’s Office Election Law Unit wrote in a statement released Tuesday.

The incident, which happened just before the Jan. 23 primary, is the first apparent case of AI software being used to make a “deep-fake” in order to deceive people as part of an election. Law enforcement experts say such cases involving political and economic fraud are likely to grow as AI becomes cheaper and the technology improves.

Between 5,000 and 25,000 calls were made to New Hampshire voters before the Jan. 23 primary, according to estimates from call monitoring service Nomorobo. They featured what sounded like President Biden saying, “It’s important that you save your vote for the November election,” as well as, “Your vote makes a difference in November, not this Tuesday.”

The robocalls illegally “spoofed” or altered their caller ID information so it seemed to come from a number belonging to a former New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair. The message told people to call that number to be removed from future calls.

“I am convinced the proliferation of disinformation and misinformation about our elections and political system pose one of the gravest threats facing the United States today,” U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen wrote in a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland. “I ask that the DOJ report back to me if there are statutory gaps that prevent federal agencies from acting to punish those who would disrupt our elections through the use of deep-fake technology.

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“I encourage that the DOJ work collaboratively with the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) to develop best practices and novel techniques to track, investigate and disrupt the use of AI technologies to spread misinformation and undermine free and fair elections. I fear the AI-generated robocalls received by New Hampshire voters are only the beginning of the deeply concerning activities that should be expected going forward, particularly in the lead up to the general election in November,” Shaheen wrote.

Efforts to track back the calls identified the service provider for many of them to be Texas-based Lingo Telecom, which has suspended services to Life Corporation, according to the statement. The Federal Communication Commission has also issued a cease-and-desist letter against Lingo Telecom, telling it to stop supporting illegal robocall traffic on its networks. “In addition, the Bureau issued an order, which strongly encourages other providers to refrain from carrying suspicious traffic from Lingo. The FCC may require other network providers affiliated with Lingo to block its traffic should the company continue this behavior,” the state Attorney General’s Office statement said.

The state Election Law Unit is also issuing document-preservation notices and subpoenas for records to Life Corporation and to multiple other entities, including Lingo Telecom, that may possess records relevant to the Attorney General’s ongoing investigation.

“Ensuring public confidence in the electoral process is vital. AI-generated recordings used to deceive voters have the potential to have devastating effects on the democratic election process,” said Attorney General John Formella. “The partnership and fast action in this matter sends a clear message that law enforcement, regulatory agencies, and industry are staying vigilant and are working closely together to monitor and investigate any signs of AI being used maliciously to threaten our democratic process.”