New reports show that the NSA has been using software to convert your phone calls into transcripts stored in searchable databases, it was revealed on Tuesday.
Documents leaked by Edward Snowden and published by The Intercept show that Uncle Sam’s spies, as well as their British counterparts, have been heavily investing in technology to convert phone calls for over a decade.
According to a 2008 GCHQ memo, British intelligence had been using such technology for five years, and the NSA for at least ten years. The programs are now able to convert nearly all American phone calls into text in realtime.
Text of more convenient for computers to mine whereas audio requires humans to analyze, making it a slow process. The latest revelations confirm that the NSA spies on every aspect of our lives, whether you are an American citizen or not.
According to the leaked files, the NSA first built its speech-recognition efforts around Dragon Dictate, a commercially available software program. It then changed to a package called Byblos, before updating to a new piece of software codenamed RHINEHART.
The agency moved because existing packages focused too heavily on English while the agency needs to translate all calls, regardless of language. Of particular interest is Farsi and Pashto, so the agency had to develop its own solutions.
In a 2006 memo, the NSA crowed: “We are entering a golden age for Human Language Technology (HLT). Powerful and inexpensive computers, high-speed networking, and advanced algorithms are being combined to revolutionize the analyst desktop.” The resulting software was the equivalent of “Google for Voice,” the memo brags, saying one system could process “one million cuts a day.”
The sophisticated software picks out keywords in recorded conversations. Say the wrong word too many times and your calls will be flagged for human review. Once this happens agents can then sift through the massive dossier they have on you, looking for objectionable behavior. What happens from there is unknown, as the agency has no oversight and conducts activities free from pesky laws and regulations.