Third in a series. Part 1 here; Part 2 here.
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?”
So what are those authorities? And what are the protections around their execution?
Litt wouldn’t say. But thanks to previous explorations of the Snowden archive and some documents released by the Obama administration, we know there are four major methods the NSA uses to get access to phone calls involving Americans — and only one of them technically precludes the use of speech recognition.