Förderverein Informationstechnik und Gesellschaft

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This is just between us (and the spies)

The US National Security Agency has patented a new technology for monitoring millions of telephone calls, so watch out, it's now even easier for the spooks to eavesdrop on your conversations

By Suelette Dreyfus

15 November 1999

The US National Security Agency has designed and patented a new technology that could aid it in spying on international telephone calls. The NSA patent, granted on 10 August, is for a system of automatic topic spotting and labelling of data. The patent officially confirms for the first time that the NSA has been working on ways of automatically analysing human speech.

The NSA's invention is intended automatically to sift through human speech transcripts in any language. The patent document specifically mentions "machine-transcribed speech" as a potential source.

Bruce Schneier, author of Applied Cryptography, a textbook on the science of keeping information secret, believes the NSA currently has the ability to use computers to transcribe voice conversations.