A shadowy research and development agency attached to the Pentagon is paying a computer scientist $300,000 to develop a means of transcribing thousands of telephone conversations into text at once.
This would enable the government to create a database containing thousands or millions of telephone conversations — at least a public version of such a database that likely already exists in some form.
The database could be easily searched by government agents employing a simple search engine. That means agencies like the National Security Agency would be able to keep a record of millions of phone conversations and pull up what you said at any time.
The project has the euphemistic name of “Blending Crowdsourcing for Fast, Cheap and Accurate Analysis of Spontaneous Speech,” and it is being funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA. Wired magazine reported that the computer scientist being paid the $300,000 is Matt Lease of the University of Texas.
Wired writer Robert Beckhusen believes the ultimate goal of the project is to create a means of quickly transcribing telephone conversations into digital documents. That would make them far easier to read, store, and transmit. The ultimate goal is a database of conversations an agent could pull up on his computer.
Connection to NSA Data Collection?
The project came to light in March, but news of it was largely ignored because Edward Snowden had not yet made his revelations about the NSA’s mass collection of data about phone conversations. One has to wonder if the data was being collected to use in Lease’s project.
Interestingly enough, the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance, or FISA Court, renewed the order that allows the NSA’s collection of data about telephone conversations and other communications on July 19, 2013. The Guardian newspaper had reported that the Obama Administration had not decided to ask for such a renewal.
It is not clear if the judges on the FISA Court were aware of Lease’s project or not. It is clear, however, that this project would constitute a violation of the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures.