Robust Automatic Transcription of Speech (RATS)

Background

The Robust Automatic Transcription of Speech (RATS) Program is a speech recognition and analysis program currently under development by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), a component of the Department of Defense that was established in 1958. DARPA conducts basic research and creates technologies that address practical problems through applied research. According to DARPA's website, "Existing speech signal processing technologies are inadequate for most noisy or degraded speech signals that are important to military intelligence. The RATS program will create algorithms and software for performing the following tasks on potentially speech-containing signals received over communication channels that are extremely noisy and/or highly distorted."

The RATS program has four goals:

  • Speech Activity Detection: Detennine whether a signal includes speech or is just background noise or music.
  • Language Identification: Once a speech signal has been detected, identify the language being spoken.
  • Speaker Identification: Once a speech signal has been detected, identify whether the speaker is an individual on a list ofknown speakers.
  • Key Word Spotting: Once a speech signal has been detected and the language has been identified, spot specific words or phrases from a list of terms of interest.

EPIC's Interest

EPIC has a strong interest in both open government and domestic surveillance. EPIC frequently makes use of the Freedom of Information Act to obtain information from the government about surveillance and privacy policy. Public disclosure of this information improves government oversight and accountability. It also helps ensure that the public is fully informed about the activities of government. EPIC routinely files lawsuits to force disclose of agency records that impact critical privacy interests.

EPIC also has a strong interest in domestic surveillance. In 2012 EPIC sought and obtained records revealing NYPD and CIA collaboration on the surveillance of Muslims and persons of Arab descent in New York, New Jersey, and elsewhere. EPIC has also sought and obtained records regarding justifications for warrantless surveillance of international telephone and Internet communications on American soil, including mostly unredacted version of two key memos by former Justice Department officials.

EPIC's Freedom of Information Act Requests

On October 13, 2014 EPIC sent a FOIA request to DARPA for:

    (1) All contracts, statements of work, and technical specifications related to the "Robust Automatic Transcription of Speech (RATS)" program, including but not limited to contracts, statements of work, and technical specifications related to DARPA-SN-14-55 and DARPA-BAA-1O-34; and
    (2) All guidelines related to the collection and use of"field signals" as described in Solicitation Number DARPA-SN-14-55.

On May 27, 2015, EPIC received documents pursuant to its FOIA request. The documents were from four contractors implementing RATS: 1) IBM, 2) Raytheon BBN, 3) SAIC, and 4) SRI.

Freedom of Information Act Documents

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