Communion Of Dreams

Just how long . . .

Ah, great – the military has a new techno gizmo to use in the Global War on Terror: a hand-held lie detector! From the article:

FORT JACKSON, S.C. – The Pentagon will issue hand-held lie detectors this month to U.S. Army soldiers in Afghanistan, pushing to the battlefront a century-old debate over the accuracy of the polygraph.

The Defense Department says the portable device isn’t perfect, but is accurate enough to save American lives by screening local police officers, interpreters and allied forces for access to U.S. military bases, and by helping narrow the list of suspects after a roadside bombing. The device has already been tried in Iraq and is expected to be deployed there as well. “We’re not promising perfection — we’ve been very careful in that,” said Donald Krapohl, special assistant to the director at the Defense Academy for Credibility Assessment, the midwife for the new device. “What we are promising is that, if it’s properly used, it will improve over what they are currently doing.”

Of course, there are all kinds of problems here. let’s just start with the next paragraph in the story:

But the lead author of a national study of the polygraph says that American military men and women will be put at risk by an untested technology. “I don’t understand how anybody could think that this is ready for deployment,” said statistics professor Stephen E. Fienberg, who headed a 2003 study by the National Academy of Sciences that found insufficient scientific evidence to support using polygraphs for national security. “Sending these instruments into the field in Iraq and Afghanistan without serious scientific assessment, and for use by untrained personnel, is a mockery of what we advocated in our report.”

Furthermore, the only tests which have been conducted on the devices has been done by the company selling them to the military. And that only involved a small group of paid volunteers (226 people, from the same MSNBC story). American volunteers. Here at home. Meaning without taking into consideration either cultural differences or the stress factors of a war environment.

Now, think about that for just a moment. They sold the military a bunch (94) of these units, even though they haven’t been tested for the situation where they’ll be used. That the military would leap at the chance to use such a thing without adequate data supporting it does not come as any surprise to me. Not at all. But look past the military, at a much larger market, where that data supporting the effectiveness of the devices *would* seem a lot more appropriate: used on Americans, here at home.

Never mind the fundamental problems with any kind of polygraph – that technology is already widely accepted as an investigative tool up to and including being accepted in some courts of law. Never mind that this device is much more limited than a conventional polygraph machine, and doesn’t require the operator to have extensive training to use it.

The device is being tested by the military. They just don’t know it. And once it is in use, some version of the technology will be adapted for more generalized police use. Just consider how it will be promoted to the law enforcement community: as a way of screening suspects. Then, as a way of finding suspects. Then, as a way of checking anyone who wants access to some critical facility. Then, as a way of checking anyone who wants access to an airplane, train, or bus.

Just how long do you think it will be before you have to pass a test by one of these types of devices in your day-to-day life? I give it maybe ten years.  But I worry that I am an optimist.

Jim Downey

(Via this dKos story. Cross-posted to UTI.)

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[…] As I noted earlier this year, about the news that the US military was deploying hand-held ‘lie detectors’ for use in […]

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