“Creator of Brainwave Lie Detector Fears It May Be Misused”

Jenifer Johnston reports for the Sunday Herald:

THE creator of a new lie detector which scans brainwaves before a subject even speaks has admitted she fears what could happen if it falls into the wrong hands.

“We assume that the people asking the questions are going to be noble and working for something that is good , but of course that is not always going to be the case,” Dr Jennifer Vendemia told the Sunday Herald. This week she will address a major conference on crime at London’s Science Museum.

Vendemia’s new detector deduces from brainwaves whether a subject is preparing to answer a question truthfully.

Her work is funded by US government grants of $5.1 million (£2.7m), but at the end of her research she can choose to hand her device to the government or to a private company or individual.

“I stand to gain a great deal from it personally when it is completed, but I am very mindful of the uses it could be put to,” she said. “I have tried several times to get ethical investigations going into what we are doing here without success.”

The detector developed by Vendemia, a retained investigator with the Department of Defence Polygraph Institute, places 128 electrodes on the face and scalp which translate brainwaves in less than a second. Subjects only have to hear interrogators’ questions to give a response.

On groups, Vendemia has so far had an accuracy rate of between 94 and 100%.

Professor Paul Matthews, a neurologist at Oxford University who will also address the conference, said there are ethical concerns surrounding new lie detection technology. “In the US particularly the suspect has the right to remain silent — this technology obviously changes that.”

Dr. Vendemia’s lecture is scheduled for 13 January. The Lecture List provides the following announcement:

Naked Science: Criminal Memories

How would you feel about having your mind read by a machine? Is this the ultimate invasion of privacy? Find out more about the sophisticated memory testing or ‘brain finger-printing’ technologies currently used on criminals in the USA and discuss with experts whether we should use them here. This event is one in a series of debates on crime.

The Home Office has already begun trialing polygraphs, which typically measure heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure, as part of sex offenders parole in the North West of England – but what lies in the future of lie detectors? Will we soon test cheating partners and dishonest employees? Can we really ever trust technology which tells us what we are thinking?

Experts include Dr Jennifer Vendemia, Principal Investigator, Department of Defense Polygraph Institute, USA, who will discuss the potential pitfalls revolving around the misrepresentation of the research. Professor Paul Matthews, Neuroscientist, University of Oxford will also be on hand to discuss the science behind lie detectors. Tor Butler-Cole, King’s College London, will be talking about the ethical and legal implications of using new brain fingerprinting techniques to determine criminal responsibility. The event will be facilitated by Dr Dan Glaser, Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, UK. Gareth Jones, presenter of Tomorrow’s World and children’s show How2 will facilitate this event.

The Dana Center, which is hosting the conference, has an announcement on its website. Admission is free, but reservations are required.

“Polygraphs Don’t Give True Story”

Noah Schachtman reports for Wired News. Excerpt:

The military may have ways — gruesome ways — of making people talk, as the Abu Ghraib prison scandal has shown. But it still doesn’t have a reliable method for figuring out whether those people are telling the truth or not.

Nearly 75 years since the introduction of the polygraph, there’s still nothing close to a foolproof lie detector. Traditional methods for catching a fibber have been battered by scientific study. And, despite endless waves of hype, the high-tech alternatives — brain scans, thermal images and voice analysis — have withered under scrutiny, or remain largely unproven.

“Everybody would love to have a lie detector that works. But wanting it isn’t going to make it happen,” said Stephen Kosslyn, a Harvard University professor of psychology.

“You can flip a coin, and get the same results,” said Mike Ritz, a former Army interrogator who now trains people to withstand questioning.

In a 2002 report, the National Academy of Sciences concluded that traditional polygraph screening was so flawed that it “presents a danger to national security.” The group found that too many innocent people who took polygraphs were labeled guilty, and too many guilty people slid by undetected.

Federal and local governments have carried on with polygraphs anyway. U.S. military investigators, armed with the devices, have been deployed to Iraq, to question candidates for detention. The Energy and Defense departments give out thousands of the tests every year to filter out potential security threats. And the Supreme Court has ruled that it’s up to the states to decide whether evidence from lie detectors is admissible in court.

Polygraphers contend that — especially when they start out with a piece of damning evidence — they can catch liars at rates of 90 percent or better. The problem is that polygraphs check only for physical responses that indicate deceit: heavy breathing, high pulse rate, sweat. But panting or sweating don’t necessarily mean that a person is guilty of anything. All these responses indicate is that someone is anxious, said University of Arizona psychology professor John JB Allen. And innocent people get jumpy, too — especially when there’s a bull-necked interrogator in the room.

India: “Soon, Investigators May Ride Brain Waves to Nail Culprits”

Ranjani Ramaswamy reports for The Indian Express. Excerpt:

Mumbai, January 7: WE wasted reams of newsprint wondering if Salman Khan had indeed been driving that night. His inebriation aside, how could it have been conclusively verified beyond any doubt that his was actually the hand on the steering wheel? The truth, concurs Dr C R Mukundan from NIMHANS (National Institute of Mental Health and Neural Sciences, Bangalore) lies permanently encoded in Khan’s own brain fingerprint.

”In fact, the Khan case would be an ideal case for brain fingerprinting, a process which is a gauge of actual experience. The actual experience of the perpetrator or witness is encoded in a very specific manner in his brain. This would be revealed during the course of the EEG (Electroencephalogram) and the carefully formulated probes used to stimulate his brain waves. Probes are the key words or phrases compiled with the help of the investigating officers, which act as a trigger for the person under scrutiny,” says Mukundan. So, if there was a red shirt on the crime scene that only the investigating policemen know about and the words ‘red shirt’ are used in the probe, the subject’s brain waves react in a telling manner, explains Mukundan, who is developing an indigenous form of brain fingerprinting in close collaboration with the Forensic Science Lab in Bangalore. His project has also been granted Rs 70 lakh by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting a few months ago.

Mukundan is participating in the All India Annual Conference on Forensic Science in the city.

Brain fingerprinting was originally developed in the early 1990s by Dr Lawrence Farwell, who created quite a stir with his patented technique. Farwell also managed to prove conclusively to the courts, years after a gruesome murder case, that the prime suspect who had been convicted for life since 1977, had in fact not committed the crime. His system has been touted the world over as 100 per cent accurate and is being used by all major investigation services across the globe.

”When Farwell’s paper came out, the repercussions were of course phenomenal and we all got excited. But I started taking special interest two years ago when we were working with the polygraph (lie detector) machines, which we found very inconvenient. In the polygraph the machine takes note of the subject’s supression or anxiety in divulging information. But with the brain fingerprinting we can go beyond that. We can figure out whether a person was actually on the crime scene or not, and what his subjective experience really was. In fact, with all this global terrorism, people are talking of putting gadgets and sensors at all airport doorways, where the brain fingerprint with the help of visual stimuli of all passengers would be recorded. So that one can predict if a person with a ‘terrorist experience’ is boarding the flight and they can at least be called for questioning,” adds Mukundan.

“Brain Fingerprinting” Project at University of Arizona

Eric Swedlund reports for the Arizona Daily Star in an article titled, “UA on Security’s Cutting Edge.” Excerpt:

John Allen, a psychology associate professor, will try to answer this question: “Is Brain ‘Fingerprinting’ Ready for Prime Time?”

Conventional polygraphs measure factors such as heart rate and sweaty palms to determine nervousness or anxiety, but “brain fingerprinting” examines brain waves for particular responses associated with recognition.

The technique is currently being used to assess memory, but it has potential applications in criminal investigations.

Allen will test subjects in a mock crime scenario and note how recognition of a specific fact will elicit different brain activity. Applications could involve testing spies to determine if they recognize particular acronyms, pictures or phone numbers.

Allen said the procedure must accurately identify guilty people without incriminating the innocent. Tests thus far indicate about 90 percent accuracy on both accounts.

“In any attempt to increase homeland security, you have to protect the citizenry against false accusations,” Allen said.

“Medical Detection of False Witness”

Brandon Spun reports in the 4 February 2002 issue of Insight magazine on experimental detection of deception/concealed information techniques. Spun specifically addresses Dr. Larry Farwell’s “brain fingerprinting” technique, Dr. Daniel Langleben’s fMRI research, and Dr. James Levine and collaborators’ thermal imaging technology.

“The Science of Lies: From the Polygraph to Brain Fingerprinting and Beyond”

Matt Bean of Court TV reports. AntiPolygraph.org’s Gino J. Scalabrini is among those interviewed for this report. Excerpt:

A tablet made in ancient Babylon warned, “When a man lies, he looks down at the ground and moves his big toe in circles.” Ancient Chinese lore professed that a liar who held rice grains in his mouth would spit them out dry, instead of wet as would those telling the truth. And French Renaissance philosopher Michel Montaigne cautioned “He who is not very strong in memory should not meddle with lying.”

While conventional wisdom may have kept society honest for centuries — the Babylonians realized early on that liars often refrain from looking their dupes in the eye — it wasn’t until the 20th century that people began to use science to get a leg up on liars. But the science of truth is far from failsafe.

The most popular method of lie detection in use today is the polygraph machine, developed in the 1930s, but its accuracy is widely disputed. That’s one reason why, in the Department of Justice’s investigation of the more than 1,200 people so far detained in the investigation of the Sept. 11 attacks, the polygraph may be joined by at least one new lie detection mechanism.

“The Lie Detector That Scans Your Brain”

Clive Thompson reports on Dr. Lawrence A. Farwell’s brain fingerprinting technique in this New York Times magazine article. Excerpt:

The police have tried for years to get into the heads of criminals. But the accuracy of polygraphs, which measure pulse rates and blood pressure, has frequently been questioned — since steely-nerved liars can quell these physiological cues. Now a new technique called “brain mapping” promises to add a new (if creepy) weapon to crime fighting: a device that can scan the brain of suspects and hunt for incriminating thoughts.

The idea of monitoring brain waves isn’t new. Scientists have long known that certain recognizable waves occur when people are surprised, pleased or frightened. But recently the technique has become much more precise. At Brain Fingerprinting Laboratories, a company in Fairfield, Iowa, the chief scientist, Lawrence Farwell, interrogates suspects by checking their EEG’s for “P300 waves.” These waves are produced when the brain encounters words or images that it recognizes; thus the police, Farwell claims, can present a suspect with information that only a criminal would know and see if the brain recognizes it.

“Climbing Inside the Criminal Mind”

Sarah Sturman Dale reports on Dr. Larry Farwell’s brain fingerprinting technique in this short article. Excerpt:

He went to Harvard, works in Iowa and loves swing dancing. That’s not the typical profile of an anticrime crusader, but Lawrence Farwell is an unusual guy. While developing technology that would allow the vocally paralyzed to speak, he stumbled across a trove of seemingly extraneous signals stored in the brain. He began looking for a way to put that information to use. Result: a new forensic technology he calls brain fingerprinting.

“A Truth Machine: Can Brain-Scanning Technologies Stop Terrorists — Or Just Threaten Privacy?”

Ronald Bailey reports for Reason magazine’s ReasonOnline website. Excerpt:

“It’s happening much faster than I thought it would,” says James Halperin, author of the 1996 science fiction novel The Truth Machine. The novel describes how humanity would react to the invention of an infallible lie detector in the year 2024. “When I was talking about the concept of a truth machine back in the 1990s, a neuroscientist friend told me that his best guess was that it would be 50 years, if ever, before such a thing could be created,” says Halperin. “I picked 2024 as the date so that the idea wouldn’t seem too ridiculous.”

However, recent advances in brain-scanning techniques may bring about the development of a kind of truth machine sooner rather than later. These techniques, if validated through more research, could replace fallible polygraph tests, which some argue are no more accurate than chance in determining guilt or innocence. Self-described “polygraph victims” George Maschke and Gino Scalabrini explain how federal agencies ruin lives by relying on polygraphy to screen applicants for sensitive jobs despite the fact that polygraph tests are so bad that U.S. courts refuse to allow their results to be admitted as evidence in trials.

But the science of detecting deception might be coming of age. Dr. Lawrence Farwell, a psychiatrist who heads the Human Brain Research Laboratory in Fairfield, Iowa, has developed a technique he calls “brain fingerprinting.”

“It’s not actually a lie detector,” explains Farwell. “Instead it detects whether or not certain information is stored in a person’s brain.” He likens brain fingerprinting to finding fingerprints or DNA traces at a crime scene. The presence of a person’s fingerprints or DNA at a crime scene does not tell investigators whether the person is guilty or not. After all, there may well be an innocent explanation for how they got there. Similarly, brain fingerprinting does not tell investigators whether a suspect is guilty or not, just that specific information is or is not present in his or her brain.

“Truth and Justice, by the Blip of a Brainwave”

Barnaby J. Feder reports for the New York Times about Dr. Lawrence A. Farwell’s brain fingerprinting technique. Excerpt:

Since the World Trade Center bombing in 1993, Dr. Lawrence A. Farwell has been arguing that terrorist operations can be investigated through careful monitoring of the brain waves emitted by suspects during interrogation. The claim did not get very far with the Federal Bureau of Investigation or any other major law enforcement agency then.

Now, since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Dr. Farwell and a number of supporters are pressing for a much more thorough consideration.

Their effort is another instance of the typical innovator’s natural impulse to dress up old visions in front- page news. But Dr. Farwell’s investigative technique, which he likes to call brain fingerprinting, may also be seen as a typical story of conflict over how to develop real-world applications from promising bodies of research.

Dr. Farwell’s concept is an offspring of a vast body of research on the electrical activity of the brain. Most of the research has focused on easily observed phenomena like alpha and beta waves, which have been respectively linked to activities including sleep and heightened alertness. But one subset beginning in the mid-1960’s homed in on extremely brief electrical wave patterns associated with recognition of familiar sounds, smells and sights.

The most widely studied of such event-related changes is a split-second bump in electrical activity that starts anywhere from 300 milliseconds to 800 milliseconds after a recognized stimulus. Many researchers have studied how the bump, called p300, appears to be affected by various diseases of the brain. Some have pondered how it may be used to help severely disabled people control computers. Starting in the 1980’s, Dr. Farwell and a few other neuroscientists began exploring whether the phenomenon could be used to detect concealed knowledge.

One reason for their interest is that the most widely used lie detectors, known as polygraphs, have long been considered an embarrassment by many scientists. Polygraphy measures a suite of physical reactions to interrogation. The underlying premise is that people being questioned about crimes in which they were involved will involuntarily exhibit telltale increases in their pulse, blood pressure, breathing rate and sweat levels.

But polygraphy has been under fire ever since it was invented in the 1920’s. Supporters say that experience in framing questions and the constant improvement in the monitoring equipment has made polygraphy highly reliable. Critics say such testing is flawed because it measures emotion rather than knowledge. They say the guilty can train themselves to respond in ways that deceive their questioners while many easily flustered people have been wrongly branded as guilty.