By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – Attorney General John Formella identified Walter Monk, owner of Texas-based Life Corporation, and Lingo Telecom as being linked to what might be among the first cases of an AI generated robocall intent on voter suppression during a presidential primary, with felony penalties and federal civil fines possible.
A cease and desist order was issued Tuesday while the state continues to probe the motivation and financial backers of the calls, Formella said at a news conference.
He called this just the start of his department’s investigation. Formella said it is part of a bipartisan national effort by attorneys general to protect election integrity.
The calls went out two days before the first-in-the-nation primary in New Hampshire with the caller sounding like President Joe Biden saying: “Your vote makes a difference in November, not this Tuesday.”
The illegal robocalls encouraged recipients not to participate in the New Hampshire primary.
The robocalls also illegally spoofed their caller ID information to appear to come from a number belonging to a former New Hampshire Democratic party chair.
The message instructed recipients to call the number belonging to that person to be removed from future calls. That person received at least 10 calls, Formella said.
As the 2024 election cycle begins, he said attorneys general from across the nation are looking at this issue and this case and talking more among themselves about the advent of AI and its potential impacts.
Formella gave the investigation update to the press and thanked federal partners, including the Anti-Robocall Multistate Litigation Task Force, state attorneys general, and the Federal Communications Commission Enforcement Bureau.
Formella said his investigation is criminal in nature with the potential for Class B felonies to be charged carrying prison time. There are also civil federal charges at play.
“We are at the beginning of this investigation, not the end,” Formella said noting “It takes a long time to build a criminal case,” and as yet, he could not say what the motive for the calls were other than to say the target of the calls was mostly New Hampshire registered Democrats and not isolated to a particular area of the state.
Formella said the case is “unique” in that it appears to be the first time, at least in New Hampshire, an artificial intelligence use of a president’s voice has been used in an attempt to change an election result.
The DOJ update, he said, was to signal to the public that they are on it and hope to serve as a deterrent to other would-be actors as the election process for the next president gets rolling.
“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 Formella. “I would like to thank the members of our Election Law Unit, the experts from the offices of my fellow state Attorneys General who make up the Anti-Robocall Multistate Litigation Task Force, as well as members of the Federal Communications Commission’s Enforcement Bureau for their invaluable support, cooperation, and investigative efforts in this matter.”
He also thanked YouMail and Nomorobo for helping to identify these robocalls, as well as Industry Traceback Group for its efforts in tracing the source of the identified robocalls.
“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,” he said.
The state agency worked with its federal partners to do “tracebacks” via an entity known as Industry Traceback Group.
These efforts identified the source of the calls to be Life Corporation and Walter Monk, Formella said.
The “tracebacks” he said further identified the originating voice service provider for many of these calls to be Texas-based Lingo Telecom.
“After Lingo Telecom was informed that these calls were being investigated, Lingo Telecom suspended services to Life Corporation,” the DOJ said in a press release.
Formella said the Election Law Unit was issuing a cease-and-desist order to Life Corporation for allegedly violating RSA 659:40, III, which prohibits any person from engaging in voter suppression by “knowingly attempting to prevent or deter another person from voting or registering to vote based on fraudulent, deceptive, misleading, or spurious grounds or information.”
The cease-and-desist order requires Life Corporation to immediately cease violating RSA 659:40, III and all other New Hampshire election laws, and the order notes that the Election Law Unit reserves the right to take further enforcement actions based on conduct preceding the date of the order.
The Election Law Unit is additionally 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 ongoing investigation.
He said the Unit has also been working closely with the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Enforcement Bureau.
The FCC may require other network providers affiliated with Lingo to block its traffic should the company continue this behavior.
Separately, the Election Law Unit has been working with the Anti-Robocall Multistate Litigation Task Force on this matter, Formella said.
On Tuesday the Task Force is issuing a letter to Life Corporation notifying the company that the Task Force received information identifying Life Corporation as the originating calling customer responsible for transmitting the suspected illegal robocall traffic.
That notice will request that Life Corporation ensure that the company is following all applicable federal and state laws, including the Telephone Consumer Protection Act; the Truth in Caller ID Act; and the Telemarketing and Consumer Fraud and Abuse Prevention Act, Telemarketing Sales Rule.
While he said the state voter hotline fielded a number of complaints about push polling and robocalls as they normally do, Formella is continuing to investigate potential election law violations, consumer protection act violations, and telephone consumer protection act violations, while still determining the total number of robocalls made.
The call monitoring service, Nomorobo, estimates between 5,000 and 25,000 calls were made.