Europe's Latest Border Security Efforts Combines Junk Science With Lie Detectors

from the strangely-expensive-for-such-a-shit-solution dept

There's border garbage going on in Europe as well. A report by The Intercept shows border officials have cobbled together junk science, tech, and a spin on a notoriously-sketchy piece of equipment into its newest border security offering.

It's called Silent Talker. It subjects travelers to lie detector tests predicated on the fiction that people call tell other people are lying just by looking at them. It's the same pseudo-science that powers the TSA's useless "Behavioral Detection" program. Only this is possibly worse because it considers itself to be a lie detector and it's been known for years lie detectors can't reliably detect lies.

It works like this: travelers upload their passports to the border agency's website and are put face-to-"face" with a blue uniformed avatar. The software takes control of the device's camera to scan the traveler's face and eye movements for "signs of lying."

Here's the thing: it doesn't even work when it's humans doing the face-to-face work. A report on the TSA's Behavioral Detection program found it to be completely lacking in scientific background. The justification for the program was predicated on hearsay, conjecture, and anecdotal evidence. The TSA claimed it was hard science, but actual scientists have said there's no evidence backing the claim that anyone can suss out lies just by looking at people's faces.

These research findings do not imply that people move their faces randomly or that the configurations in Figure 4 have no psychological meaning. Instead, they reveal that the facial configurations in question are not “fingerprints” or diagnostic displays that reliably and specifically signal particular emotional states regardless of context, person, and culture. It is not possible to confidently infer happiness from a smile, anger from a scowl, or sadness from a frown, as much of current technology tries to do when applying what are mistakenly believed to be the scientific facts.

Instead, the available evidence from different populations and research domains—infants and children, adults living in industrialized countries and in remote cultures, and even individuals who are congenitally blind—overwhelmingly points to a different conclusion: When facial movements do express emotional states, they are considerably more variable and dependent on context than the common view allows.

[...]

Efforts to simply “read out” people’s internal states from an analysis of their facial movements alone, without considering various aspects of context, are at best incomplete and at worst entirely lack validity, no matter how sophisticated the computational algorithms.

Given this scientific background, it's no surprise Europe's "Silent Talker" lie detector/behavioral detection program can't actually detect lies or liars.

A person judged to have tried to deceive the system is categorized as “high risk” or “medium risk,” dependent on the number of questions they are found to have falsely answered. Our reporter — the first journalist to test the system before crossing the Serbian-Hungarian border earlier this year — provided honest responses to all questions but was deemed to be a liar by the machine, with four false answers out of 16 and a score of 48. The Hungarian policeman who assessed our reporter’s lie detector results said the system suggested that she should be subject to further checks, though these were not carried out.

The rush to allow tech to do the work of people -- as well as the firm belief that if something is expensive it must be good -- has led to the funneling of time and money into this highly-questionable border security effort.

IBorderCtrl’s lie detection system was developed in England by researchers at Manchester Metropolitan University, who say that the technology can pick up on “micro gestures” a person makes while answering questions on their computer, analyzing their facial expressions, gaze, and posture.

An EU research program has pumped some 4.5 million euros into the project, which is being managed by a consortium of 13 partners, including Greece’s Center for Security Studies, Germany’s Leibniz University Hannover, and technology and security companies like Hungary’s BioSec, Spain’s Everis, and Poland’s JAS.

There's more money on the way and companies will be pushing dubious "solutions" to governments with security money to burn. European nations have been hit with a series of terrorist attacks, which means the wind is now catching most of these governments' caution and junk science purveyors are converting fervent beliefs into long-term government contracts. The European Commission has budgeted nearly 35 billion euros over the next eight years for border control efforts. Being first is better than being correct, and governments all over the world have shown a willingness to allow unproven tech to use their citizens for on-the-job training.

Filed Under: border security, eu, junk science, lie detector


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