#Open journalism No news is bad news

Your contributions will help us continue to deliver the stories that are important to you

Support The Journal
Dublin: 11°C Wednesday 18 May 2022

British spy agency might be able to tell when you say 'craic' or 'Dublin' on the phone

And “Belfast”, and “Seán” and “pub.”

Edward Snowden talks with Jane Mayer via satellite at the 15th Annual New Yorker Festival US whistleblower Edward Snowden Source: Christopher Lane/PA

BRITAIN’S SECRETIVE SPY agencies use voice-to-text technology to track the content of monitored phone conversations, and are highly successful at recognising several Irish words.

That’s according to documents from the archive of US whistleblower Edward Snowden, published today by The Intercept website, which also highlight the practice by the American National Security Agency (NSA).

Top-secret documents…show the NSA can now automatically recognise the content within phone calls by creating rough transcripts and phonetic representations that can be easily searched and stored.

Spy agencies on both sides of the Atlantic have for years been keen to develop increasingly sophisticated voice-recognition technology, the documents indicate.

And one of the files, a internal memo from 2009, suggests British security services have been paying particular attention to the island of Ireland.

In developing it’s data-gathering capabilities, GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) had particular success in picking out words like “Craic,” “Dublin,” “Belfast,” “Derry”, “pub” and “Seán.”

craic Source: The Intercept

At that time, 75% of the conversations transcribed by the UK security services’ software involved what’s known as NIRAD – “Northern Ireland accented speech,” according to the memo.

#Open journalism No news is bad news Support The Journal

Your contributions will help us continue to deliver the stories that are important to you

Support us now

Previously released documents have shown that agencies in the UK and US have, since the September 11th attacks, stepped up their efforts to eavesdrop on phone conversations.

But the use of voice-to-text technology removes the need for human monitoring of each call, and allows them to search conversations by telephone or via “voice-over-internet” programs such as Skype.

They can conduct these keyword searches on archived conversations, or in real-time.

H/t: Richard Tynan

Read: British and American spies hacked company that makes Irish driving licences>

Read: The NSA targeted an Irish company as part of its data-gathering activities>

About the author:

Dan MacGuill

Read next: