I've been wondering about the New York Police Department's plans to "monitor" mobile phone calls in "high-risk" areas; at least some New Yorkers offer mildly-enthusiastic endorsement of the idea.
Of course this is a tremendous invasion of privacy; once the door opens, you can expect the police to push this precedent to monitor calls in "high-drug-use" locations, near "vulnerable children," and so on and so forth — it's a process as inevitable as gravity. I am certain that open-source phones (such as the Google Android) will include encryption in the very near future if this initiative goes through. But more fundamentally, I find it hard to believe that it would be effective — I really have to wonder whether terrorists use mobile phones speak "in the clear."
Regardless, I wonder most of all about the technology. What will the NYPD monitor? Will they monitor to see if anyone is calling known terrorists? Will they do traffic analysis — look for patterns that indicate terrorist activity? (I find it hard to believe that enough is known about these patterns, assuming they exist in the first place.) Or will they attempt to use speech technology?
If the NYPD does attempt to use speech technology, will they succeed? I am skeptical: mobile calls with inherent poor quality; lots of noise in the background; many accents; rapid speech; a huge amount of speech which leads directly to a huge number of false positives. On the other hand, national intelligence agencies around the world have programs in place to solve these speech technology problems, and perhaps these agencies will share some of solutions with local police forces.
Will New Yorkers stand for this invasion of privacy? Of course; they have already surrendered their right to privacy of their persons, as the NYPD can and does search anyone on the subway for no reason at all. Citizens will be offered the choice of further invasion of privacy vs. the "choice" of not being able to commute to work — no real choice at all.
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