China Creates ‘Database of Its Citizens Voices’ to Boost Surveillance | Time

The Chinese government has collected tens of thousands of “voice pattern” samples from targeted citizens and is inputting them into a national voice biometric database, according to a Human Rights Watch report published Monday.

The idea is that an automated system, thought to still be in development, will use the database to pick out individual voices in telephone and other conversations, boosting the government’s already expansive surveillance capabilities.

The system is reportedly being developed by a Chinese voice recognition and artificial intelligence specialist called iFlytech. It adds another spoke to existing biometric information like fingerprints and DNA samples, as well as identification numbers and other personal details.

How long has China been collecting voice data?
Biometric records are a common tool of law enforcement worldwide and some countries, like Japan, even fingerprint foreigners on entry — ostensibly as an anti-terrorism measure. In China, the DNA of some 40 million people, and over one billion faces, are already logged on police databases.

Compared to that, mass scale biometric voice recognition is in its infancy. China’s Ministry of Public Security started piloting the database in 2012 and scaled the program up in 2014. HRW does not give current numbers but by 2015, it says, police had collected 70,000 voice patterns in one of the project’s pilot provinces. In 2016, HRW tracked purchases of voice recognition systems in several other provinces, included in Xinjiang, a restive region with 11 million ethnic minority Uighurs.

Why does China say it needs to collect people’s voices?
Chinese police are allowed to collect voice patterns and other biometric data from anyone suspected of “violating the law or committing crimes.” But HRW says that through 2017 there were multiple instances of police collecting voice samples from ordinary citizens, including at least one instance in which applicants for passports in Xinjiang were required to submit a voice sample. No publicly available official policy documents outline why this is necessary, according to HRW.

Source: China Creates ‘Database of Voices’ to Boost Surveillance | Time

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