NSA voice recognition technology: ‘Blanket surveillance, not tracking criminals’
The US National Security Agency (NSA) is using voice recognition software to spy on people and detect their locations, according to declassified documents obtained by the media. The NSA has been recording and gathering private phone calls to identify people by their unique “voiceprint” for more than a decade.
RT discussed the issue with William Binney, former NSA technical director and whistleblower, and Richard Barbrook, academic in the School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Languages at the University of Westminster.
“In 1984 George Orwell has this idea that a large number of the population had telescreens where the television spies on you as well as gives you propaganda. And this is the source of the logical extension of this,”Barbrook told RT.
“We all carry around mobile phones, we have laptops, now people have these voice activated assistants and obviously this is all collecting data on you,” he continued.
Barbrook says it is interesting that people became paranoid about voice surveillance and any form of surveillance 20-30 years ago, but now just accept it.
“Often, lots of it is happening in the commercial sector and the NSA is basically piggybacking on the back of this,” he added.
Asked about the privacy implications of massive collection of voice recording by NSA, Barbrook pointed out that “it is blanket surveillance, not tracking people.”
He said he doesn’t think anybody would argue that the police should chase terrorists or pedophiles.
“But we are not talking about just targeted surveillance, what we are talking is – everybody, everything, every piece of data by everybody being collected and scanned by software for anything that looks deviant,” he explained.
“You can’t tell. You could say ‘They are only after the bad guys.’ But what happens if suddenly there is a massive protest movement in Western countries, then they could start targeting people involved in very legitimate things like demonstrations, strikes, even people who vote the wrong way, as far as the American government is concerned,” he noted.
Barbrook also claimed that whistleblowers seem to be one of the NSA’s priorities “as they [NSA] don’t want people to know what they are doing.”
William Binney, former NSA technical director and whistleblower, commented that “when you are looking at any kind of technology development in the area where the technology is trying to figure out something in a mass of data, it becomes a problem when you are trying to look at large amounts of data."
“In other words, if you were looking at a home phone number of a family… then it would be fairly effective to use a tool like that to identify who is on the line,” Binney explained.
However, if, for example, it comes to identifying a person’s location in a city of over 200,000 people, “it really becomes a problem.”
“Technology isn’t really as accurate as people are portraying it,” he said.
Asked about the impact on whistleblowers and whether NSA technology could be used to easily identify dissenters within the NSA, Binney answered that “if you have a whistleblower talking about a given program, then all you need to do is take that voice print and look at all the people inside the agency cleared for that program and know about that program, and if you try to match that voice print, it should be effective at that point.”
In Binney’s opinion, the use of such technologies is an invasion of the right to privacy, “except for the one you might be targeting, if you have a warrant with probable cause justifying the targeting.”
“But the rest of the data that you have, you have to purge it,” he added.
The NSA deleted surveillance data about wiretapping carried out by the George W Bush administration, the US federal court revealed.
The agency responded by saying the data in question following the 9/11 attacks was removed to free up space on its hard drives. However, it was initially ordered by the court to be preserved for further examination.
Binney says this sort of data tends to disappear far too often.
“It is a way of covering your backside, so that when an investigation starts, they just can’t let that data be exposed,” he told RT.
Binney claimed that the Department of Defense Inspector General did the same thing with the material against whistleblowers.
“Even when the whistleblowers were in the court under criminal trial, they destroyed evidence. And it was only because it was exculpatory and they didn’t want that out,” he said.
He also says that now this is all deliberate. “Even when they lie in front of Congress or to the people of the US, or even to the president or any of their cabinet heads, it doesn’t seem to matter. There is no accountability here. The intelligence community has so much power.”
Binney recalled that Senator Chuck Schumer told President Donald Trump that he shouldn’t be attacking the intelligence community “because they’ve got six ways to Sunday to get back at you.”
“And these are the ways they do it,” Binney concluded.