BiometricsVoice biometrics help detect Euro terror plot

Published 6 October 2010

Western intelligence services say that the discovery of the recent Euro terror plot owes at least some of its success to voice recognition technology that allows law enforcement electronically to match a voice to its owner; the technique can be an effective antiterror tool, and law enforcement agencies are already considering how a voice database could help thwart future plots

The discovery of an alleged terror plot against Europe owes at least some of its success to “voiceprint” technology that allows law enforcement electronically to match a voice to its owner.

The technique can be a powerful antiterror tool, officials increasingly believe. Law enforcement agencies are already considering how a voice database could help thwart future plots (see, for example, “Voice security technology advanced,” 9 March 2010 HSNW; and “New study confident about prospects of voice biometrics,” 25 May 2010 HSNW).

AP reports that the voices of several of the voices were recorded in the tribal areas of Pakistan. The British eavesdropping agency GCHQ deployed voice identification software to help uncover the plot. “Advances in these types of technology have been key in thwarting plots and catching suspects,” a British government official told AP, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of his work.

The announcement of the discovery of the plot was preceded by an intensified hunter-killer UAV campaign in the rugged mountains of Pakistan. Several organizers of the plot, and quite a few of the foot soldiers who were to carry it out, were killed by these CIA-guided UAV strikes.

The UAV strikes against the militants continue, and on Monday the CIA drones killed eight Germans who were training in one of al Qaeda Pakistani hideouts.

U.S. officials believe a cell of Germans and Britons was at the heart of the Europe terror plot. Germany’s ARD public television cited unidentified sources Tuesday as saying four of the Germans killed in the missile attack were of Turkish descent.

AP quotes developers of voice biometric technology to say it can be more useful than traditional fingerprint analysis in fighting terror. “You have potential for there to be a larger database for criminals’ voices than their fingerprints. What are the chances that you’ll get a foreign terrorist’s fingerprint versus a foreign terror suspect’s voiceprint?” said Germano Di Mambro, who runs Wellesley, Massachusetts-based Porticus Technology Inc. (see “VoiceKeyID from Porticus,” 11 August 2010 HSNW).

Supporters point to several other high-profile successes in voiceprinting. Colombian drug kingpin Juan Carlos Ramirez Abadia, who used plastic surgery and multiple aliases to dodge authorities, was arrested in 2007 after the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) matched his voice to a tape recording previously made by Colombian authorities.

Academics in the field of speech processing are cautious, though. In a 2003 paper presented to a conference in Geneva, several experts

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