Tuesday, July 03, 2007

They've gone nucking futs

U.S. Government Wants Lie Detector Tests at Airports and Border Crossings

The U.S. Government is soliciting bids for a project that, if implemented, could see travelers facing lie detector testing at airports, border crossings, and other high traffic venues. The project is sponsored by the Defense Academy for Credibility Assessment (DACA), which until recently was known as the Department of Defense Polygraph Institute (DoDPI). “Credibility assessment” is the U.S. Government’s latest buzzword for “lie detection” and supplants the now démodé “detection of deception.”

Although DACA nominally falls under the Department of Defense’s secretive Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA), it is more than just a DoD agency in that it trains all federal polygraph operators, including those from non-DoD agencies such as the FBI and CIA. DACA also controls the federal research budget for lie detector testing (despite a history that includes burying unwelcome research results, such as those that suggested innocent blacks are more likely to fail the polygraph than innocent whites).

According to the amended solicitation, the scope of the project is:

To identify, implement, empirically evaluate, and validate optimal procedures
for speedy accurate credibility assessment of humans passing through a security
checkpoint in high volume environments (e.g., airports, border crossings,
building entry). The effort shall specifically address physiological and
behavioral assessment using instrumental and/or non-instrumental procedures
applicable in multi-cultural environments with emphasis on the identification
and reduction of factors affecting assessment accuracy and variability. It is
anticipated that the scope of the project will be broad enough to justify a
multi-disciplinary investigatory team and multi-site data collection.

What this would amount to is a program for mass lie detector testing of travelers. This is a truly bad idea. First, although the U.S. Government pretends that it already has a working lie detector (in the form of the polygraph), it is deceiving only itself. Al-Qaeda and other Islamic insurgents know full well that the lie detector is a sham. Moreover, even if a 90% accurate, countermeasure-proof lie detector were developed (something this project has virtually no prospect of achieving), it would be worthless for such a task as screening travelers for terrorists. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that as many as 1 in 100,000 travelers is a terrorist. With a 90% accurate lie detector test, for every 1 terrorist correctly flagged as deceptive, some 10,000 innocent travelers will wrongly be so flagged. One remains stuck with the hopeless task of finding the needle in the proverbial haystack.

This problem is similar to that associated with using the polygraph in an attempt to screen for spies. In 2002, the National Academy of Sciences completed a research review and concluded that “[polygraph testing’s] accuracy in distinguishing actual or potential security violators from innocent test takers is insufficient to justify reliance on its use in employee security screening in federal agencies.” The federal government ignored that conclusion and has instead actually increased its reliance on employee polygraph screening. Now it would seem the U.S. Government wishes to subject the traveling public at large to such madness.

The open period for proposals has been extended until 2 P.M. EST on 10 July 2007. Scuttlebutt has it that Draper Laboratory of Cambridge, Massachusetts is favored to win the contract.

Original article posted here.

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