© Reuters / Robert Galbraith
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.