US prison inmate Verus call monitoring

November 2021
Updated: February 2022

Reuters reports that US prisons are rolling out an AI-based system that scans phone calls, leading rights groups to voice concerns about surveillance and privacy.

Intended to keep prisons and jails safe, Leo Technologies' Verus system uses Amazon speech-to-text technology based on keywords to identify and transcribe prisoners' phone calls.

However, groups such as Access Now, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Worth Rises worry it abuses the privacy rights of family members and others with whom prisoners are talking.

Another issue is discrimination. Research shows voice-to-text tools are significantly more inaccurate for Black voices. And a higher percentage of Black people are detained or jailed in the US.

Surveillance is also considered a concern. Reuters quotes documents that reveal instances of prisons and detention centres using Verus for purposes beyond maintaining safety, for example identifying conversations that would help them win court cases.

It has also been used to monitor COVID-19. The Intercept had earlier reported that prison officials in several US states have been using Verus to scan inmate calls for COVID-19 mentions and to flag complaints about the quality of prison response to the pandemic.

A Verus brochure states the software can be used to 'identify sick inmates, help allocate personnel in understaffed prisons, and prevent “COVID-19 related murder.'

Operator: Suffolk County Sheriff's Office; Multiple
Developer: LEO Technologies

Country: USA

Sector: Govt - justice

Purpose: Improve safety

Technology: Speech-to-text AI

Issue: Surveillance; Privacy; Bias/discrimination - race, ethnicity
Opacity:
Governance