DARPA is working on an embryonic project that would store your every verbal conversation on an Internet server, creating a searchable chat database that would represent the ultimate privacy killer.
But don’t worry, the servers on which your conversations are stored will be owned by the individual or their employer, and the government promises to never access the information using their vast new $2 billion dollar spying hub in the middle of the Utah desert. Honest.
“University of Texas computer scientist Matt Lease has studied crowdsourcing for years, including for an earlier Darpa project called Effective Affordable Reusable Speech-to-text, or EARS, which sought to boost the accuracy of automated transcription machines. His work has also attracted enough attention for Darpa to award him a $300,000 award over two years to study the new project, called “Blending Crowdsourcing with Automation for Fast, Cheap, and Accurate Analysis of Spontaneous Speech.” The project envisions a world that is both radically transparent and a little freaky,” reports Wired’s Robert Beckhusen.
Described as being, “like a Twitter feed or e-mail archive for everyday speech,” day to day conversations, “could be stored in archives and easily searched.”
Lease claims that the technology would represent a, “democratizing force of everyday people recording and sharing their daily lives and experiences through their conversations,” and yet the Wired article barely even scratches the surface on examining what a horrendous privacy threat this would pose, with governments and police departments potentially obtaining the ability to Google-search speech.
Imagine a situation where, in the name of preventing terrorism, the Department of Homeland Security is given access to the database and uses it to search for spoken keywords, as it already does online with social networks. Forget slippery slope, this would be a rapid descent into the maelstrom of ubiquitous surveillance – the type George Orwell couldn’t even conjure up in his worst nightmare.
The Wired piece glibly addresses concerns about “respecting the privacy rights of multiple people involved,” as well as whether the conversations would be stored on remote or private servers, but doesn’t even mention the chilling ramifications that could ensue once the state manufactures a justification to access the database.
Former CIA director David Petraeus heralded the arrival of the “smart home” as a boon for “clandestine statecraft,” yet that represents child’s play in comparison to what DARPA is planning.
To get a sense of the motivation behind DARPA’s latest attempt to drive the final nail into any semblance of privacy, one only has to recall the furore over the agency’s Total Information Awareness program, symbolized by its logo of an all-seeing eye atop a pyramid beaming its gaze upon the globe.
As the New York Times’ William Safire wrote in November 2002, the TIA program was based around tracking, “Every purchase you make with a credit card, every magazine subscription you buy and medical prescription you fill, every Web site you visit and e-mail you send or receive, every academic grade you receive, every bank deposit you make, every trip you book and every event you attend — all these transactions and communications will go into what the Defense Department describes as ”a virtual, centralized grand database.”
The program was defunded and mothballed in 2003, but it continued to operate under a number of different sub-projects.
Brought to fruition, DARPA’s new attempt to record verbal communications would represent TIA on steroids, but as long as it is sold to the public on a voluntary basis with a shiny, cool, hip veneer (Google Glass-style), a million tech-heads and transhumanists will jump right on board with no hesitation, leaving refusniks increasingly ostracized in a world where storing your every interaction and experience in some vast database becomes as normal as having a Facebook page.
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