Across the country, hundreds of thousands of prisoners are adding their voices to biometric databases set up by state correctional organizations under coercion from their prison. While advocates for the prisons say the databases could help uncover gang-related activity, critics say they could seriously violate prisoners' rights.
A new joint report from , jointly published with details how widespread the databases have become. According to the New York Department of Corrections, 92 percent of its population had been enrolled in the voice recognition system. Facilities in Florida, Texas, Arkansas, Connecticut, and Georgia have also purchased the technology, which is primarily supplied by prison telecommunications firm Securus Technologies.
According to The Appeal, the software, which is known as Investigator Pro, holds at a minimum the voices of 200,000 inmates.
These inmates are given a rough choice: either submit their voices to Investigator Pro or be denied the right to make phone calls at all. Securus, which developed the technology with a $50 million grant from the Department of Defense, also develops on through which these calls are made.
These phone calls stay within the databases for long after they've left the facility. Prisoner rights advocates say that the technology might have some benefits—at times, prisoners are bullied into giving up their phone minutes to another inmate, and voice recognition could detect the fraud. But, they say, the databases present underlying questions of civil liberties that neither Securus nor the states have considered.
"Once the data exists, and it becomes an accepted part of what’s happening, it’s very hard to protect it or limit its use in the future,” says Jerome Greco, a digital forensics attorney at New York’s Legal Aid Society, speaking to . "If you have a family member convicted of a crime, yet you haven’t been, why are you now having your information being used for government investigations?”
Voice analysis systems are increasingly common. Call centers use them to detect , banks in southeast Asia have for customer authentication. Security experts are constantly on the lookout for the next form of biometric security, telltale individualized forms of body identification—some think it will be the heart.