In EFF’s Catalog of Carceral Surveillance, we explore patents filed by or awarded to prison communication technology companies Securus and Global Tel*Link in the past five years. The dystopian technology the patents describe are exploitative and dehumanizing. And if the companies transformed their patents into real products, the technology would pose extreme threats to incarcerated people and their loved ones.
But importantly, patents often precede the actual development or deployment of a technology. Though applications may demonstrate an interest in advancing a particular technology, these intentions don’t always progress beyond the proposal, and many inventions that are described in patent applications don’t wind up being built. What we can glean from a patent application is that the company is thinking about the technology and that it might be coming down the pipeline.
In 2019, Platinum Equity, the firm that has owned Securus Technologies since 2017, restructured the company, placing it under the parent company Aventiv. Aventiv claimed it would lead Securus through a transformation process that includes greater respect for human rights. According to Aventiv, many of patents filed prior to 2019 will remain just ideas, never to be built. Following the publication of our initial Catalog of Carceral Surveillance posts, Aventiv responded with the following statement: “We at Aventiv are committed to protecting the civil liberties of all those who use our products. As a technology provider, we continuously seek to improve and to create new solutions to keep our communities safe.”
Aventiv’s statement goes on to respond to EFF’s post describing a patent filed by Securus that envisions a system for monitoring online purchases made by incarcerated people and their families. The company wrote: “The patent is not currently in development as it was an idea versus a product we will pursue,” and added that to “ensure there is no additional misunderstanding, we will be abandoning this patent and reviewing all open patents to certify that they align with our transformation efforts.”
Aventiv’s statement disclaiming the patent, however, references a different Securus patent than the one described in EFF’s post. We have followed up with Aventiv for clarification and will update this post when we hear back from the company.
Aventiv stated that the patent “was filed in June 2019, prior to our company publicly announcing a multi-year transformation effort,” and provided a link with more details about their commitments. The statement concluded: “Our organization is focused on better serving justice-involved people by making our products more accessible and affordable, investing in free educational and reentry programming, and taking more opportunities–just like this one–to listen to consumers.”
GTL declined to comment for this series.
GTL and Securus were once among the greatest opponents of federal regulation of prison phone calls. They’ve claimed to have adjusted their positions. Both announced over the summer that they are supportive of reforms to create more accessible prison communications. Each began to offer inmates free phone calls and free tablets.
To better understand the potential (but not certain) futures of these companies, EFF created the Catalog of Carceral Surveillance to spotlight the patents that could pave the way toward chilling developments in surveillance.
In the coming months, EFF plans to follow up with Aventiv to hold them to their word and will continue to remind prison technology companies of their responsibilities to the families they serve.
View the Catalog of Carceral Surveillance below. New posts will be added daily
- Monitoring the Online Purchases of Inmates’ Friends and Family.
- Mobile Correctional Facility Robots
- Prison Gaming and AR/VR Services
- Voice Recognition and Surveillance