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[FYI] High-tech snooping tools developed for spy agency


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25 May 1999 

Date: Tue, 25 May 1999 05:59:45 +0200 (CEST)
From: Anonymous <nobody@replay.com>
To: cypherpunks@toad.com 

High-tech snooping tools developed for spy agency 

The Vancouver Sun (May 24, 1999) 

Jim Bronskill 
Southam Newspapers 

OTTAWA -- Canada's electronic spy agency is quietly bankrolling the
development of cutting-edge systems that can identify voices, analyze
printed documents and zero in on conversations about specific topics. 

Documents show the Communications Security Establishment has enlisted
the help of several leading Canadian research institutes to devise
state-of-the-art snooping tools. 

CSE, an agency of the defence department, collects and processes
telephone, fax and computer communications of foreign states,
corporations and individuals. The federal government uses the
intelligence gleaned from the data to support troops abroad, catch
terrorists and further Canada's economic goals. 

CSE and counterpart agencies in the United States, Britain, Australia
and New Zealand share intercepted communications of interest with one
another, effectively creating a global surveillance web, according to
intelligence experts. 

CSE's interest in high-tech devices that help locate specific
conversations and documents is a clear indication the five-member
alliance collects and sifts large volumes of civilian traffic, said
Bill Robinson, a researcher in Waterloo, Ont., who has long studied
the spy agencies. 

"This technology is needed to process vast communications streams when
you're hunting for nuggets within it." 

Robinson said the devices have legitimate uses, but hold "potentially
frightening" implications for people's privacy as the technology

The Centre for Pattern Recognition and Machine Intelligence, located
at Concordia University in Montreal, received $355,000 to develop two
systems for CSE that automatically analyze printed documents, such as
faxes, once they are digitally captured in a computer data bank. 

The first system, completed early last year, quickly determines the
language of a document, said the centre's C. Y. Suen. 

"Some humans may have problems in distinguishing Spanish from
Portuguese, for example, or Spanish from Italian," he said. "So what
we have developed is a system that can do it automatically." 

The second device electronically searches captured documents for
distinct features, including logos, photos, text or signatures. 

Combining the two systems enables a user, for example, to search a
data bank for Japanese documents containing photos, or Russian faxes
with signatures. 

Records obtained by Southam News under the Access to Information Act
show CSE commissioned several other projects during the last two
years. They include: 

     - An $84,981 contract with the University of Waterloo in Ontario
     for the "development of multilingual computer speech recognition

     - A $115,000 agreement with the University of Quebec at
     Chicoutimi to research "speaker identification" procedures. 

     - Work by the Centre de Recherche Informatique de Montreal on
     "topic spotting" -- a means of identifying the subject of a
     conversation. The $150,393 contract was the most recent of
     several awarded to CRIM. 

CSE spokesman Kevin Mills did not provide information on specific
goals of the projects, but allowed: "In general, any research that
we're funding has some kind of interest for CSE." 

The agency has been working on voice and phrase-detection systems for
at least a decade. The documents, however, show the research
continues, with some devices yet to be perfected. 

CSE and its four international partner agencies use computers capable
of recognizing intercepted messages containing specified names,
addresses, telephone numbers and other key words or numbers, says a
new report on surveillance technology, by Scottish researcher Duncan

However, Campbell found the agencies lack systems for homing in on
conversations featuring particular words. 

CSE would have trouble picking out a phone call with the words
"assassination" or "revolution" because the speech recognition systems
developed to date cannot instantly recognize an unknown person's voice

"The key problem, which is familiar to human listeners, is that a
single word heard on its own can easily be misinterpreted, whereas in
continuous speech the meaning may be deduced from surrounding words,"
says Campbell's report. 

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