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Report: U.S. prisons building vast biometric databases from inmate voice prints

Report: U.S. prisons building vast biometric databases from inmate voice prints
[Photo: Tyler Rutherford/Unsplash]

Inmates throughout the U.S. prison system are helping their jailers build biometric databases with their own voices, whether they want to or not.

According to reporters from The Intercept and The Appeal, prisoners in New York, Texas, Florida, Arkansas, and Arizona are using voice-capturing technology to grab the prisoners’ voices, digitize them, and turn them into unique, identifiable biometric signatures known as voice prints (like fingerprints) as part of a voice surveillance system. Once the unique voice data is collected, the program’s algorithm generates a computer model of their vocal signatures, which can be used to identify them in future phone calls. Prison officials claim the voice prints can help them track phone calls to improve prison security and help prevent fraud.

Civil liberties groups note that the prisoners’ contributions to the voice surveillance database isn’t transparent or consensual. According to the Intercept, some prisoners aren’t given a choice as to whether or not they want to be involved. They have to contribute their voices by repeating a few phrases, or be denied phone privileges. Other prisons have enrolled the incarcerated people in the program without their knowledge. Once their voices are captured, the voice prints can be used to track phone calls, identify individuals from past communications, and flag calls as suspicious. When an inmate is released from prison, their voice reportedly remains in the database.

Some prisons are even recording the people on the receiving end of the call (i.e., family or friends of the incarcerated). Prison officials claim this function is to track which outsiders speak to multiple prisoners regularly, but it has privacy advocates hackles raised.

If you need additional proof of the scope of the prison-industrial-military complex, the Intercept reports that the technology created by Securus Technologies, a Dallas-based company that is one of the largest providers of inmate telecom services, was partly developed using a $50 million Department of Defense grant aimed at identifying calls made by al-Qaida terrorists and is now being used domestically.

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