A Government of Liars and Whores
- You know a person is a liar when they will not give you a straight yes or no answer.
(The Intercept) - When it comes to the National Security Agency’s recently disclosed use of automated speech recognition technology to search, index and transcribe voice communications, people in the United States may well be asking: But are they transcribing my phone calls?
The answer is maybe.
A clear-cut answer is elusive because documents in the Snowden archive describe the capability to turn speech into text, but not the extent of its use — and the U.S. intelligence community refuses to answer even the most basic questions on the topic.
Asked about the application of speech-to-text to conversations including Americans, Robert Litt, general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said at a Capitol Hill event in May that the NSA has “all sorts of technical capabilities” and that they are all used in a lawful manner.
“I’m not specifically acknowledging or denying the existence of any particular capability,” he said. “I’m only saying that the focus needs to be on what are the authorities the NSA is using, and what are the protections around the execution of those authorities?”
Asked at a public event by The Intercept if anyone had ever explicitly advised the court that the NSA was using speech-to-text processing on voice intercepts that were collected by 702 programs, Litt replied: “The FISA court orders specifically dictate what we can do and what we can’t do in conducting collection under 702. You have seen those orders. You know what they say.”
He continued: “The orders also provide what kinds of processing we can do on them. We do what those orders authorize. If the orders authorize it, we’re allowed to do it. If they don’t, we’re not. And it doesn’t matter whether we would use this speech-to-text recognition tools or whether we use 800 monkeys sitting at typewriters.”
But none of the FISA court orders appear to say anything specific about processing. And the ability to turn massive amounts of voice into text raises intense privacy concerns because of the scale involved in the collection. Assigning an analyst (or even a single monkey) to listen in on every international phone call would be impossible. Automatically transcribing them and storing the text in a searchable database is not.
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