[News] Interpol Rolls Out International Voice Identification Database Using Samples From 192 Law Enforcement Agencies

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Jun 25 17:25:46 EDT 2018


  Interpol Rolls Out International Voice Identification Database Using
  Samples From 192 Law Enforcement Agencies

Ava Kofman - June 25, 2018

_Last week, Interpol_ held a final project review of its speaker 
identification system, a four-year, 10 million euro project that has 
recently come to completion. The Speaker Identification Integrated 
Project, what they call SiiP, marks a major development in the 
international expansion of voice biometrics for law enforcement uses — 
and raises red flags when it comes to privacy.

Speaker identification 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. With enough voice prints and samples collected in its 
global audio database, Interpol’s speaker identification system will be 
able to upload an unknown voice and, regardless of the language it is 
speaking, match it to a list of likely candidates. SiiP’s database allow 
uploads and downloads of samples from 192 law enforcement agencies 
across the world.

SiiP will join Interpol’s existing fingerprint and face databases, and 
its key advantage will be to facilitate a quick identification process — 
say, of a kidnapper making a phone call — even in the absence of other 
identifiers. The platform also boasts the ability to filter voice 
samples by gender, age, language, and accent. When the audio recordings 
are taken from similar acoustical environments, accuracy rates can be 
extremely high.

Speech recognition technologies can identify and tag individuals every 
time they open their mouths, effectively ending anonymity 
As Interpol’s promotional video explains <https://vimeo.com/219362794>, 
departments using SiiP can upload intercepted phone calls and also 
search against voices on social media. SiiP’s database will include 
samples from YouTube, Facebook, publicly recorded conversations, 
voice-over-internet-protocol recordings, and other sources where 
individuals might not realize that their voices are being turned into 
biometric voice prints. “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 databases made available to police around the 
world,” explained Edin Omanovic, a surveillance expert at Privacy 

Cynthia Wong, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, warned that a broad 
mandate could lead to an ever-expanding collection. “There are many 
instances where we might consent to our voice being recorded for one 
purpose, but would object to using it for others, including using our 
voice to build and train a massive voice biometric database and 
recognition system,” she said. “Or perhaps we didn’t consent to our 
voice being recorded at all — perhaps our voice was secretly recorded or 
inadvertently caught in the background of a recording, but has now been 
placed in Interpol’s database.

    SiiP’s database will include samples from YouTube, Facebook,
    publicly recorded conversations, and other sources where individuals
    might not realize that their voices are being turned into biometric
    voice prints.

Interpol’s system appears to represent the largest international 
voice-harvesting effort to date. But as a recent Interpol survey 
reports, many law enforcement agencies have already been quietly using 
voice recognition systems. More than half of the 91 departments in 69 
countries surveyed already run automated speaker identification 
programs. In 2010, Mexico announced 
<https://speechpro-usa.com/media/news/2010-06-03> that it had created 
the world’s first nationwide automated speech recognition system, using 
Russia’s Speech Technology Center. As The Intercept reported 
in January, the National Security Agency has been using speaker 
recognition to monitor terrorists, politicians, drug lords, spies, and 
agency employees since at least 2004. The Department of Homeland 
Security’s new HART database — which already stores a fraction of the 
world population’s biometrics — will support voice data, in addition to 
DNA, scars, and tattoos. Human Rights Watch released a bombshell report 
last year exposing China’s state-of-the-art system, which appears to be 
integrated with mobile phone networks and recognizes the voices of known 
suspects in real time. Wong says that China’s integrated surveillance 
system is likely to set a precedent for other countries to follow suit.

It is unclear what kinds of legal safeguards exist to protect against 
the creation of international biometric collections, which may retain 
data indefinitely. Oversight bodies for intelligence sharing are scarce 
“How can Interpol ensure that the voice samples other agencies submit 
are lawfully intercepted?” Wong asked. “Based on our work, many 
countries around the world fall woefully short in regulating 
surveillance to begin with.”

Wong, Omanovic, and others are also concerned about the plans to create 
a “blacklist” of criminal and suspect voices. It is not known who will 
audit the list, what rules will govern when and how countries add to it, 
and what happens if someone is placed on the blacklist in error 
Omanovic said. Wong wonders what kinds of safeguards will be used in 
countries where the government regularly criminalizes dissent or jails 

An Interpol report researching the ethics of biometrics acknowledges the 
great chilling effect that such collection might have. “Processing of 
audio data that is never actually viewed does not count as intrusive in 
itself, though it can lead to future intrusion,” it states. 
“Particularly in an investigatory context where the aim is identifying 
suspects for future scrutiny. Even when no human viewing does take 
place, the application of these techniques has consequences resembling 
genuine intrusion: They can easily cause people to fear that their 
information will be exposed, creating a harmful incentive to avoid 
associational life or unconventional behavior.”

Verint, a multinational biometrics company, has been leading project 
development, and did not respond to a request for comment. As Privacy 
International has documented, the company has been known to install 
and “sell 
intrusive and mass surveillance systems worldwide including to 
authoritarian governments.” This, according to Omanovic, “tells you 
everything you need to know about the level of ethical scrutiny being 
applied. The EU is being securitized without any public debate, and the 
only people who will ultimately benefit are those working in the arms 

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