“Search for Truth: New Technology for Catching Liars Could Put More People’s Honesty to the Test”

Associated Press writer Christopher Newton reports. Excerpt:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The world is becoming a trickier place for people who tell lies — even little white ones.

From thermal-imaging cameras, designed to read guilty eyes, to brain-wave scanners, which essentially watch a lie in motion, the technology of truth-seeking is leaping forward.

At the same time, more people are finding their words put to the test, especially those who work for the government.

FBI agents, themselves subjected to more polygraphs as a result of the Robert Hanssen spy case, have been administering lie detection tests at Fort Detrick, Md., and Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, bases with stores of anthrax. Nuclear plant workers also are getting the tests in greater numbers since Sept. 11.

“There has been a reawakening of our interest in being able to determine the truth from each other,” said sociologist Barbara Hetrick, who teaches a course on lying at the College of Wooster in Ohio. “As technology advances, we may have to decide whether we want to let a machine decide guilt or innocence.”

The new frontiers of lie detection claim to offer greater reliability than the decades-old polygraph, which measures heart and respiratory rates as a person answers questions.

Critics say failure on any lie detector test can have unfair consequences, regardless of what the truth may be.

Mark Mallah says he was suspended and put under 24-hour surveillance after failing a routine polygraph test in 1994, when he was an FBI counterintelligence agent.

He was finally cleared and reinstated 19 months later. He quit.

“They never produced any evidence or came forward with anything, but the polygraph still undermined my career,” said Mallah, who practices law in San Francisco.

In the CIA, routine polygraphs led to the suspicion of dozens of agents in the 1980s. Many were kept in professional limbo for years, according to an FBI report.

“We should try to avoid a society where suspicion is based on a machine and not on evidence,” said Dale Jenang, a sociologist and philosophy researcher at the University of California, Berkeley. “Guilt and innocence are too important to leave to a machine.”

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