Vice Reports on Prison Phone Companies Recording Calls

Published · Dec 17, 2021

DevPhone companies that supply prisons have been recording confidential calls between inmates and their lawyers. The sixth amendment and Federal Wiretap act protect these types of calls.

Vice spoke to Elizabeth Daniel Vasquez, director of the Science & Surveillance Project at Brooklyn Defender Services. Vasquez and her organization have long suspected this has been happening.

In 2019, investigators discovered that prosecutors were handing over recordings of confidential calls during the discovery process of several cases. Brooklyn Defender Services inquired into the matter. The phone company said that these were “isolated incidents.” 

However, it kept happening. Independent investigators conducted an audit. Phone companies record more than 1,500 calls. This surveillance affected 353 cases.

The company responsible, Securus, claims the “issue” is not widespread. It also said it put automated warnings before the wrongfully recorded calls.

The affected attorneys dispute this. Evidence also suggests that the recording is happening in multiple states. It occurs in at least eight, with calls from attorneys in one more location.

Attorneys can request for their numbers to be added to a “do not record list.” This is a type of phone lookup directory Securus maintains. Unfortunately, the audit revealed that companies are still recording over 100 people that have opted out.

Skirting Regulations

Invasions of privacy are not at all uncommon. In 2021, it was discovered that multiple US agencies were relying on unregulated facial recognition. Often agencies or individuals within them use this technology without any oversight or even the knowledge of their superiors.

Vendors of such systems tend to approach agents or agencies directly and give them a trial run. Developers rarely test these products properly. As such tech often discriminates against marginalized groups.

Vice notes that the Securus system in particular negatively affects low-income inmates, sometimes from minority groups.

While citizens outside of prison can take some control over their privacy by using solutions like VPNs, inmates can’t. They’re at the mercy of whatever the institution lets slide.

A massive report by Intercept shows how profitable such systems can be. As such, institutions are unlikely to give them up willingly.

Privacy advocates are pushing for this legislation to outlaw such tech and other broad-level surveillance programs.

Garan van Rensburg
Garan van Rensburg

Garan is a writer interested in how tech reshapes the environment, and how the environment reshapes tech. You'll usually find him inoculating against future shock and arguing with bots.