U.S Prisons Creating Massive Database of Prisoners' Voices

Prisoners may not even be aware that their voices are part of the voice recognition program.
Jessica Miley

The voices of prisoners inside US prisons are reportedly being used to build giant ‘voice print’ database without their knowledge.

According to the site ‘The Intercept’ prisons in New York, Texas, Florida, Arkansas and Arizona are actively using voice recognition technology that can extract and digitize voices to create unique and identifiable biometric signatures known as voice prints.

The system allows the prisons to track phones calls and search previous communications for the same voice of a particular person. Conversations deemed suspicions can be flagged.

The Intercept report claims that the technology was originally developed by a grant from the Department of Defence as a tool to track potential terrorist activities. It was later sold to prisons as a way to build a database of incarcerated people.

Prisoners coerced into taking part in the program

One inmate in New York's Sing Sing prison told Intercept that he was told to read a set of phrases that would be used to create voice print. The prisoner was told if he did not comply with the request that his phone privileges would be revoked. It seems that the data is being kept even if the prisoners leave prison and that voices of people calling into prisons have also been recorded and stored.

Civil liberties organizations are concerned that inmates are being coerced into giving their permission to record their data or in the worst scenarios not informed at all they are being added to a database.

While prison official has confirmed the technology is in use, exactly what is down with the data is unclear. It is possible that other agencies could gain access to the database and use the voice prints in other cases.

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In this case, the voices of citizens without an arrest record who have spoken to an inmate may have their voice used as part of an ongoing government investigation.

Calls may be used in other external investigations

Prison advocacy groups worry that the technology could be used to squash prisoner reporting on poor conditions inside prisons. If a prison welfare advocates voice is extracted and flagged, future calls to this person may be deemed as suspicious and terminated.

It is unclear if prisons have the ability to share the data across between them exact numbers of prisoners who have been involved int he building of the databases is unclear, but rough estimates suggest there could be more than 200,000 incarcerated people’s voice prints.

While voice recognition technology is becoming more ubiquitous in devices such as Amazon Echo and Google Home. The field is still relatively new and continuously expanding. Large databases will be very valuable as the technology continues to expand.  

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