Coming soon: Your voice in an Interpol database

By Lucien Crowder | May 24, 2018

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Interpol is that rare international organization whose name evokes a hint of glamor. If Interpol is on your case, you probably masterminded a record-breaking heist of jewels or art. You’ve got a dozen fake passports and an archipelago of hideouts stretching from Paris to Phnom Penh. But can you ever rest easy? No—because of Interpol.

That’s the movies, anyway. In real life, Interpol is usually about as exciting as its stated mission: “Preventing and fighting crime through enhanced cooperation and innovation on policy and security matters.”

Now Interpol is getting more interesting. As reported by Michael Dumiak at IEEE Spectrum, Interpol is planning to field a software-and-database platform that will allow law enforcement authorities from 192 countries to match any “lawfully intercepted” voice sample to a “blacklist” database. The “lawfully intercepted” samples “could come from mobile, landline, or voice-over-Internet-protocol recordings, or from snatches of audio captured from recruitment or propaganda videos posted to social media.” Samples could also be culled from “ambient speech”—otherwise known as talking in public.

Is everyone to be under audio surveillance from now on? Maybe they already are—Interpol conducted a survey of 91 police departments in 69 countries and found that a majority “already run automated speaker identification of some kind.”

An activist based in Berlin tells Dumiak that “I consider speech recognition in the hands of police and secret services to be quite dangerous.” Why would he think such a thing? Why in the world?

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly characterized Interpol as a UN entity. Interpol cooperates with, but is not a part of, the United Nations.

Publication Name: IEEE Spectrum
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