– Speak up: US law enforcement to use Russian software to store millions of voices (RT, Sep 23, 2012):
The US government has already proven its intent to see all evil, with the use of Orwellian programs like TrapWire. But it can now hear all evil too, as law enforcement agencies implement a tool able to store, analyze and identify voices in seconds.
‘Voice Grid Nation’ is a system that uses advanced algorithms to match identities to voices. Brought to the US by Russia’s Speech Technology Center, it claims to be capable of allowing police, federal agencies and other law enforcement personnel to build up a huge database containing up to several million voices.
When authorities intercept a call they’ve deemed ‘hinky’, the recording is entered into the VoiceGrid program, which (probably) buzzes and whirrs and spits out a match. In five seconds, the program can scan through 10,000 voices, and it only needs 3 seconds for speech analysis. All that, combined with 100 simultaneous searches and the storage capacity of 2 million samples, gives SpeechPro, as the company is known in the US, the right to claim a 90% success rate.
According to Slate.com’s Ryan Gallagher, who spoke with SpeechPro president Aleksey Khitrov, the software is already being used in many different countries and for ‘noble causes’ only – like in Mexico, where Voice Grid helped identify and apprehend kidnappers during a ransom call, thus saving their victim’s life.
Both the FBI and the NSA have expressed interest in the program, which is also expected to be used at 911 call centers and police precincts. And sample lists would, of course, contain ‘persons of interest’ – known criminals, terror suspects or people on a watch list.
Or would it?
The definition of ‘suspect’ has been known to be loosely interpreted by US law enforcement agencies in the past. What with the FBI branding people as ‘terrorist suspects’ for buying waterproof matches or flashlights, and the Department of Homeland Security urging hotel staff to notify authorities immediately if a person has tried to use cash and/or hung a ‘do not disturb’ sign on their door, it’s easy to see why many are spooked by the idea that not only can the government see you at all times, it can also hear you.
In fact, combined with the capabilities of TrapWire, this would give law enforcement agencies an unprecedented ability to effectively dismiss both the country’s founding documents and any notion of privacy you may have had.
An unsuspicious, law-abiding citizen would obviously have to read his private messages or broadcast his phone calls out loud to be considered above-board. If he’s whispering into his handset, however, the DHS is relying on its “citizen spies” to pounce and denounce the poor guy.
So, law enforcement agencies now have TrapWire to ‘all the better to see you with’ and Voice Grid ‘all the better to hear you with’. That plus the Patriot Act is effectively turning America into the land of the-no-longer-free-and the very agencies that set out to protect their people and their land into the big bad wolf.
The Patriot Act is probably one of the most controversial pieces of legislature in American history, an acronym that, for all the old and new security bureaus, Provides Appropriate Tools Required (to) Intercept (and) Obstruct Terrorism. But the tools included in the bill weren’t – and still aren’t –considered appropriate by many. Wiretaps and electronic surveillance were legalized. Arrests were made on a daily basis. When the number of those detained reached 1,200, officials stopped counting. Personal records no longer remained personal – and that was only the domestic beginning.
Officially, 1,200 special interest detainees were held and investigated under the Patriot Act. The Justice Department examined more than 700 of them and none were ever linked to any terrorist group or plot.
Nevertheless, upon his resignation in 2004, former Attorney General John Ashcroft’s letter stated that “The objective of securing the safety of Americans from crime and terror has been achieved.” This should have meant the end of the Patriot Act, for it included a “sunset” provision, to expire in December 2005. Seven years later, it’s still in place and regularly being enforced…not necessarily for a war against terror.
Statistics show that the so-called sneak-and-peak, a search warrant that can be executed without prior warning, is mostly used for drug-related crimes. Between 2006 and 2009, 1,618 delayed-search warrants were issued for drugs, 122 for fraud – and only 15 for terrorism.
The National Defense Authorization Act allows the indefinite detention of anyone deemed a terror suspect – American citizen or not. And if you look at what makes a potential suspect, you can pretty much expect to be taken in every time you answer your phone.
So bottom line:you can be heard making a hotel reservation and then seen trying to pay cash, for example, or looking stressed at breakfast and then detained as a suspect under the NDAA whilst police comb through your files using a warning-less warrant.
But the good thing is: you’ll be totally safe.
– Watch Your Tongue: Law Enforcement Speech Recognition System Stores Millions of Voices (Slate, Sep 20, 2012):
Intercepting thousands of phone calls is easy for government agencies. But quickly analyzing the calls and identifying the callers can prove a difficult task.
Now one company believes it has solved the problem—with a countrywide biometric database designed to store millions of people’s “voice-prints.”
Russia’s Speech Technology Center, which operates under the name SpeechPro in the United States, has invented what it calls “VoiceGrid Nation,” a system that uses advanced algorithms to match identities to voices. The idea is that it enables authorities to build up a huge database containing up to several million voices—of known criminals, persons of interest, or people on a watch list. Then, when authorities intercept a call and they’re not sure who is speaking, the recording is entered into the VoiceGrid and it comes up with a match. It takes just five seconds to scan through 10,000 voices, and so long as the recording is decent quality and more than 15 seconds in length, the accuracy, SpeechPro claims, is at least 90 percent.
The technology has already been deployed across Mexico, where it is being used by law enforcement to collect, store, and search hundreds of thousands of voice-prints. Alexey Khitrov, SpeechPro’s president, told me the company is working with a number of agencies in the United States at a state and federal level. He declined to reveal any names because of nondisclosure and confidentiality agreements. But Khitrov did divulge that various versions of the company’s biometric technology are used in more than 70 countries and that the Americas, Europe, and Asia are its key markets. Not all of its customers are law enforcement agencies, either. SpeechPro also designs voice recognition technology that can be used in call centers to verify the identities of customers. Depending on the size and specifics of the installation, it can cost from tens of thousands up to millions of dollars.
The FBI is separately pursuing voice recognition as part of its efforts to take advantage of various biometric methods of investigation, and the National Security Agency has also supported the development of the technology.
However, the advance of a mass, countrywide voice recognition system raises some obvious concerns. Russian secret services watchdog Agentura.ru reported earlier this year that Speech Technology Center’s products have been sold to countries including Kazakhstan, Belarus, Thailand, and Uzbekistan—hardly bastions of human rights and democracy. What if the VoiceGrid Nation system were in the hands of an authoritarian government? It has the technical capacity, for example, to store a voice-print of every single citizen in a country the size of Bahrain—with a population of 1.3 million—which would allow state security agencies to very effectively monitor and identify phone calls made by targeted political dissidents (or anyone else for that matter).
When I ask Khitrov about this, he uses an analogy about the character Raskolnikov from Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, who killed an old woman with a stolen ax. “People have used axes domestically for hundreds of years, but some people choose to turn it into a weapon,” he says. “We just make sure that we work with trusted law enforcement agencies and try to make sure that they use it properly.” SpeechPro’s technology is used for only “very noble causes,” he adds, citing a case in Mexico where he says it was used to identify and find kidnappers who made ransom calls before they were about execute a person. Though when I ask for more examples of how VoiceGrid is being used in Mexico, he admits, “We don’t know the specifics because that’s their information.”