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Collection of voiceprint data has privacy advocates concerned


Businesses and governments are increasingly implementing voice biometrics as an authentication tool, and while it can potentially be a means of identification and replace passwords, the massive stores of voiceprints have some privacy advocates worried.

According to Associated Press research, at least 65 million voiceprints are stored in corporate and government databases around the world. For instance, the Internal Revenue Department of New Zealand, a country of less than 4.5 million people has a million voiceprints catalogued.

Meanwhile, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo and other large US banks use voice screening to identify fraud suspects by listening for voices that match those from a database of fraud suspects.

The huge scale of take-up of the technology has surprised privacy advocates. In an interview with The Guardian, American Civil Liberties Union analyst Jay Stanley said, “this suggests there is a major new biometric tool that is being rolled out with very little public discussion”.

Stanley was also concerned that voice recognition could potentially threaten the identity of anonymous whistleblowers calling the authorities and journalists. Stanley also said that if public confidence in such services were compromised, “We could lose a major avenue of anonymous speech.”

Stony Brook University computer science associate professor Radu Sion told VICE News “there’s little hope of keeping others from recording and analyzing our voices. Phone conversations, whether by landline or cell phone, routinely involve a handful of different companies and jurisdictions, so we should never assume our conversations are 100 percent private”.

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