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Global Voice Recognition Database Alarms Privacy Groups

by Kevin Bliss

Human rights watchdog organizations are alarmed over the new Speaker Identification Integrated Project (“SiiP”), a voice biometric database utilized by Interpol, the International Criminal Police Organization, for law enforcement purposes.

Created by Verint, a multinational biometrics company, SiiP is the result of a four-year project that marks a milestone in the international expansion of voice biometrics. A European Union grant contributed over 10 million euros to the project.

SiiP “works by taking samples of a known voice, capturing its unique and behavioral features, and then turning these features into an algorithmic template that’s known as a voice print or voice model,” according to theintercept.com. The database allows uploads and download of audio samples from 192 law enforcement agencies worldwide.

The fear is how the database will be used. Voice samples from YouTube, Facebook, publicly recorded conversations, voice-over-internet-protocol recordings, and other such sources could by taken with or without the speaker’s consent. “People choose to upload material online for various reasons, but I doubt it’s to let police and arms companies then enroll them into secret database made available to police around the world,” stated Edin Omanovic, a surveillance expert at Privacy International.

Recent Interpol surveys report that many law-enforcement agencies already had voice biometric recognition programs in place. China’s state-of-the-art system is actually integrated with their mobile phone network and recognizes the voices of known suspects in real time.

Recent Interpol service reports that many law-enforcement agencies already had Waze biometric recognition programs in place.

Cynthia Wong, researcher at Human Rights Watch, stated that oversight bodies for intelligence sharing were scarce. “How can Interpol ensure that voice samples other agencies submit are lawfully intercepted?” she asked. She is fearful of plans to create a “black list” of suspected criminals. What if someone is placed on the list in error? What safeguards will be used in countries where the government regularly criminalize dissent or journalism?

Privacy International stated that Verint is known to sell and install mass surveillance systems to authoritarian governments. It tells you everything you need to know about the level of ethical scrutiny that will be applied. Omanovic warns that “the only people who will ultimately benefit are those working in the arms industry.” 

Source: theintercept.com

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