Orwell’s ever-present Big Brother was once written as a work of fiction; a dystopian future used as social commentary on life under socialist rule. Newly declassified documents have been leaked containing once classified information detailing how to make Orwell’s vision a reality. The National Security Agency (NSA) reigns supreme in an age where the government is all around us.
During the Cold War less than 40 years ago, actual Russian spies were able to evade the law for years. Ronald Pelton was able to commit espionage for five years despite official wiretaps catching him in the act. Pelton was an NSA agent who would have been apprehended within 10 minutes in the America of today.
Thanks to a Russian defector, Pelton was convicted of espionage. In today’s society, the National Security Agency has a vast catalog of voices. Identities can be matched using voice recognition technology. The information is used to track personal movements and locations, according to a classified memo leaked by Edward Snowden from January 2006.
Just signed 702 Bill to reauthorize foreign intelligence collection. This is NOT the same FISA law that was so wrongly abused during the election. I will always do the right thing for our country and put the safety of the American people first!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 19, 2018
Snowden revealed documents that suggested programs at the NSA were recording, transcribing, and identifying citizens conducting private conversations. A decade before anyone said, “OK Google”, the government agency was using the same technology to trail terrorist and domestic threats.
By using an individual’s unique mouth shape and distinctive pitch, an algorithm then produces a computer readout of vocal characteristics. This voiceprint is then stored in a database as fast as it’s created. Audio Identification is “where the NSA reigns supreme,” according to a released document dated from 2008.
Being plugged into the internet and connected to all vital information hubs leading overseas, the NSA has been able to compile a massive index of voiceprints. Expanding their technology, the NSA can intercept and analyze voice over internet protocol (VOIP) communications. A catalog of persons foreign and domestic has been built despite a warrant for citizens, millions of people have been caught in this dragnet.
Algorithms are able to connect people to past conversations they have had. Those conversations may be on a different phone number or using a secret language and compile a list of frequently used words or suspicious code words.
The NSA used voice recognition technology to identify Saddam Hussein hiding in his cavernous bunkers. Osama bin Laden has been accused of being Ayman Al Zawahri, the current leader of Al Qaeda, due to the unmistakable and remarkably consistent voiceprint.
Documents between 2004-2012 show an increase in updates and new renditions of the algorithms to increase efficiency. Used against drug dealers and terrorists, the program was aiming to prevent another Pelton or stop the next Snowden.
Officials believe the new technology represents a violation of civil liberties. The programs are never spoken about by officials and the question is never raised. Programs authorized after 9/11 surrendered many of the personal rights and liberties of the American people. With cell phones, TVs, and cameras microphones are inescapable.
Since 2009, the tech industry has been helping the regime in Iran commit human atrocities. In the civil unrest of Iran, the government has been arresting people and interrogating journalists with a print out of their conversations. The National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST) works in partnership with the NSA and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), as well as industry leaders to develop start of the solutions to problems such as voice recognition and speech software.
The same technology that runs Siri is being used to commit human rights violations in regimes like Iran and democracies like the United States. The new FISA program that received continued funding creates a loophole where a warrant is not needed to collect and analyze voices of citizens.
In partnership with AT&T, Verizon, Xbox Live, and others, the NSA partners with commercial providers to expand their warrantless surveillance of civilians and foreigners alike. The NSA believes they can create a preview of a person’s life, past and future, to get a description of their routine. The ability to predict and foretell future criminals or potential terrorists is the greatest goal the agency has set upon itself.
With an amazing mountain of personal information available to the NSA, using only the person’s voice, the government is able to identify you, know where you have been, and any contacts you made. Able to monitor all people at all times, the United States government finds themselves in a dangerous position amounting to human rights violations.
Here’s the (new) report describing how NSA is laying the groundwork to track people down through the microphones around us every day (your phone calls, a friend’s laptop, the phone next to you on the train, that Amazon Echo on the shelf…): https://t.co/EPuPhzG2UW https://t.co/KjMkZPa21u
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) January 19, 2018