“Voice Technology Has a Say When the Truth Counts”

Bill Bishop of the Eugene, Oregon Register-Guard reports. Excerpt:

The mysterious murder of Cottage Grove resident Anita Cantu Lemmon in March brought sheriff’s investigators to their usual starting point: the next of kin.

But this time they had a new investigative tool, a Computer Voice Stress Analyzer, or CVSA.

Touted as the next generation lie detector, the device measures inaudible changes in the frequency of a person’s voice caused by the body’s involuntary response to stress. Theoretically, people can’t hide a big lie.

The Lane County sheriff’s office is among agencies using software that analyzes the voice patterns of suspects for signs of deception.

“It cleared the husband right away,” he said.

But, like the polygraph before it, the new technology is a magnet for criticism.

Criminal defense lawyers caution against its possible misuse to prosecute the innocent.

Polygraph experts, and government agencies that are heavily invested in the older technology, churn out studies to discredit voice stress analysis.

The National Academy of Sciences lambasted the entire truth-finding industry in a 2001 report. So many studies are so heavily influenced by vested interests, the academy charged, that their unreliability threatens the credibility of the entire body of research literature on the topic of lie detection.

David Hughes, executive director of the National Institute for Truth Verification, said the “polygraph mafia” is out to kill the voice stress analysis industry because they know it works, is easier to use than a polygraph and is less expensive.

Hughes’ institute manufactures the CVSA equipment used by the Lane County sheriff’s office, Eugene police, about 1,400 other police agencies and the military. CVSA software is installed in a laptop computer. The person interviewed speaks into a microphone whose signal is converted into charts depicting voice frequencies. Trained examiners read the charts to detect deception.

A tool that works

The concept emerged in the 1970s and has evolved with improved technology. Neither polygraph testing nor voice stress analysis may be admitted as evidence in court because of unreliability. However, both may be used by investigators developing cases.

“This is a tool. We state as strongly as we can that this alone should never be used to make an investigative decision,” Hughes said.

Training and proper analysis of the voice charts are critical to accuracy, he said.

“The most important thing we teach people is how to couch the questions,” Hughes said. “The difference is night and day.”

Criminal defense lawyers agree on that point, and often advise clients to decline to give an interview under voice stress analysis.

“It’s another Ouija board that police will use to dupe people into believing the technology is foolproof, which, in truth, it isn’t – and the police know it. It’s just another way to get some hapless individual to spill the beans on himself,” said John Henry Hingson III, an Oregon City lawyer and past president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

The big danger comes when police rely on the machine to reinforce a misguided theory about a case, to “search for the truth as they see it,” Hingson said.

“When it happens, it’s not malicious. The police think they’re doing the right thing,” he said. “The problem is sometimes they are wrong.”

Eugene defense lawyer Shaun McCrea said that very thing happened to a client she had a few years ago in Josephine County. An officer using a polygraph machine elicited a “confession” from the client, an elderly man with a hearing problem.

McCrea, a past president of the Oregon Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, said she vigorously investigated the case and the charges against her client eventually were dismissed without prosecution.

“The people using it want to believe it. If it says the person is stressed, that is going to convince the cops the person is guilty. The alternative hypothesis goes out the window,” McCrea said.

A shout line in this article characterizes the Computer Voice Stress Analyzer (CVSA) as “A tool that works.” But the “National Institute of Truth Verification,” which markets CVSA, has conceded in court that it “is not capable of lie detection.”

Special Forces Reportedly Using CVSA in Iraq, Afghanistan

A report about Computer Voice Stress Analysis (CVSA) on the website of Central Ohio television station WBNS (“Tool Catches Fibbing Suspects”) concludes by mentioning that the Special Forces are using CVSA to interrogate suspected terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan. The entire report is reproduced here:

More and more police departments in Ohio are turning to technology used in war zones to question suspected terrorists and to determine if someone is telling the truth.

Critics call it “junk science,” but a central Ohio detective swears it turns suspects into confessors.

When Detective Dave King walks into an interrogation room, he brings a secret weapon. It’s a computer that measures stress in a person’s voice.

Detective King says the computer never lies. “These computers are now used in more than 140 Ohio police departments. At $10,000 a piece, they are actually a cost saver to departments that can’t afford a full time polygraph unit,” says King.

Critics say the voice stress computer is junk science and officers are using trickery to gain confessions.

10-TV Reporter Kevin Landers put the computer to a test.

Detective King hooked a microphone to him, and answered two questions. One question he answered truthfully and one with a lie. King says the results from the machine tell him when Kevin is lying.

King says, “There have been times when people come in and I totally bought their story.”

Then he turns the machine on.

“Had it not been for CVSA, I, and other investigators, would have believed what they told us and they would have gotten away with it,” says King.

Voice stress analyzers are also in use in Iraq and Afghanistan. Special Forces units use them to interrogate suspected terrorists.

The critics who call CVSA junk science are supported by the National Institute of Truth Verification (the company that peddles CVSA) itself, which has reportedly acknowledged in a court filing that CVSA “is not capable of lie detection.”

That the U.S. Government is relying on the junk science of voice stress analysis to interrogate suspected terrorists is corroborated by the testimony of a former Guantanamo detainee. See the AntiPolygraph.org discussion thread, Polygraph & Voice Stress Test Relied on at Gitmo.

CVSA Manufacturer Admits Device Cannot Detect Lies!

John Tuohy reports for the Indianapolis Star in an article titled, “Voice analyzers draw praise, flak.” Excerpt:

Police departments across Indiana and the country are spending thousands of dollars apiece on a truth verification device that some scientists say doesn’t work.

The Computer Voice Stress Analyzer, designed by a former Indianapolis Police Department officer, claims to help officers assess truthfulness by measuring changes in one’s voice.

Eighty-five Indiana police departments, including IPD, use the machines, which start at $10,700 each.

The designer, Charles Humble, now is chairman and CEO of the National Institute for Truth Verification, which makes the machines. In its literature, the Palm Beach, Fla., company touts it as “a very reliable investigative tool for verifying statements of witnesses, denials of suspects and for determining the validity of allegations made against police officers.”

But several scientific experiments have shown the machine, which went on the market in 1988, is no more than 50 percent reliable — in other words, a coin toss.

In addition, the manufacturer conceded in a product liability lawsuit in California that the machine can’t measure whether someone is lying.

In San Diego, murder charges were dropped against two teenagers after it was determined their confessions were coerced after they flunked voice stress tests.

One of the boys sued the National Institute for Truth Verification, claiming the analyzer was used to get the false confession.

In a court filing, the manufacturer said: “NITV acknowledges that the CVSA is not capable of lie detection and specifically cautions its users regarding the proper use of the device.”

“Could Your Voice Betray You?”

Douglas Heingartner reports for the New York Times. Excerpt:

IT is a time-honored interrogation tool and a staple of film noir: the lie-detector test that can incriminate or exonerate.

But such tests need not involve strapping someone to a machine. In fact, they may not require the subject’s presence – or awareness – at all. And their use is growing far beyond criminal investigations.

Increasingly, lie-detector tests use voice stress analysis, a technology that has been around for decades but that has gained in popularity as the software at its heart continues to be refined.

“It can really be done anywhere,” said Detective Pat Kemper of the Springfield Township Police Department in Ohio, who says he has used the voice-based testing to question thousands of suspects over the last decade. “It can be done via a telephone recording. It can be done covertly. You can use it for anything.”

Indeed, beyond its applications in law enforcement, proponents of the voice-based technology see its utility in everything from telemarketing to matchmaking. In Britain, a growing number of insurance companies have been using it to screen telephone claims in hopes of rooting out fraud – a goal they say has been borne out, both in fraud detection and in deterrence. One insurer, Admiral, says 25 percent of its car-theft claims have been withdrawn since it began using the system a year ago.

But the technology’s reliability is still a matter of debate, and its migration from the interrogation room to the call center has raised concerns about potential privacy implications. Voice analysis of this nature, after all, can easily be conducted without the speaker’s knowledge. Now that it is being used in the insurance industry, for example, the concerns include how a suspect claim might affect a customer’s subsequent applications for insurance.

The makers of one system, known as the Computer Voice Stress Analyzer, try to address such worries by controlling access to the technology. “We only sell to law enforcement and the government,” said David Hughes, executive director of the National Institute for Truth Verification, the company selling the system.

The analyzer has been available since 1988, and the company says it is used by over 1,400 law enforcement agencies across the United States, as well as by other state and federal agencies including the Defense Department. “In private industry, you’re doing it for profit, so there’s always a concern about ethics violations,” Mr. Hughes said. “You can’t be cavalier.”

But that distinction does not appease everyone. “Government is not necessarily more responsible than private industry,” said Bob Barr, a former congressman from Georgia who is a privacy consultant for several organizations. “The government can put you in jail if it doesn’t like what it finds.”

Actually, the reliability of voice stress analysis is not a matter of debate amongst scientists. The claims of voice stress analysis proponents are entirely unsupported by any peer-reviewed research whatsoever.

Mississippi: “Bill Would Ease Lie Detector Rules”

Geoff Pender reports for the Sun Herald:

JACKSON – A bill before the House would more clearly give law enforcement officers permission to use the latest in “lie detector” technology.

Many police departments in Mississippi, including Biloxi’s, already use computerized voice stress analysis equipment, instead of the older Polygraph machines, for hiring interviews and questioning of suspects. The new law would allow police who have had CVSA training to use the equipment without being certified Polygraph operators.

Both tests are inadmissible as evidence in court but can provide police with information on where to focus an investigation.

“We have used the Polygraph since the 1980s,” said Biloxi Police Chief Bruce Dunagan, who was at the Capitol on Tuesday. “We now have five or six trained CVSA operators. They’re not foolproof. A person who is a very good liar or convinced they are telling the truth can pass. But they are a useful tool.”

Vicksburg Police Chief Tommy Moffett, former Biloxi chief, said his department also uses the new equipment.

The bill referred to in this article is Mississippi House Bill 309, details of which are available here:


Canada: “Cops Praise New Lie-Detector”

Ajay Bhardwaj reports for the Edmonton Sun.

Cops and the City of Camrose are lauding a new lie-detector-type tool even though critics say it gives police the power to intimidate people accused of committing crimes.

The computer voice-stress analyser (CVSA), which purports to pick up tremors in the voice when a person is lying, is already in use by the Camrose Police Service. Cops say it’s another investigational tool.

“If you didn’t do anything wrong, there’s nothing to worry about,” said Camrose Mayor Norman Mayer. “I suppose it would be intimidating if you did something wrong because you know that something’s going to show up. But maybe you should be intimidated if you’re causing problems.”

Staff Sgt. Peter Ratcliff of the Edmonton Police Association agreed.

“The results can lead you to other avenues for investigation,” said Ratcliff. “There’s probably been a lot of people who’ve confessed on a polygraph because they feel pressure they put upon themselves. I don’t see this thing going any farther than the polygraph right now. I think it’s a good idea. “

It’s another one of those things that we have to use to get evidence to solve crimes. It’s intimidating if you’ve done something.”

Smaller police departments are using the $10,000 US tool, which many say is more accurate than a polygraph.

But Sanjeev Anand, a professor of criminal law at the University of Alberta, said any evidence gained from a CVSA test wouldn’t be admissible in court.

“It’s one possible tool but if it’s not probitive enough to be admissible in court you wonder how much they should be relying on it, even in their investigations,” said Anand.

Ratcliff said anyone who is convicted using a CVSA is likely to challenge it in court.

Camrose Mayor Norman Mayer is either woefully misinformed, a fool, or both if he truly believes that “if you didn’t do anything wrong, there’s nothing to worry about.” Voice stress analysis, like polygraphy, has no scientific basis whatsoever. See the CVSA and Other Voice Stress Analysis Applications forum of the AntiPolygraph.org message board for further discussion of this pseudoscience.

Canada: “Lie Detector ‘Useful Interrogation Prop'”

Canada.com reports:

VANCOUVER (CP) – Lie detector technology less costly than controversial polygraphs is catching on among smaller Canadian police forces, scaring some doctors who say it’s even less reliable.

The computerized voice stress analyser (CVSA), which purports to pick up tremors in the voice when a person is lying, “isn’t more than 50 per cent accurate,” said University of Toronto psychiatrist John Furedy.

“It is however, a very useful interrogation prop.”

The device was in the news this week for helping to cause another scandal within the Vancouver Police Department.

A Vancouver police officer who took a CVSA test in a job interview with another force admitted to lying under oath in a criminal trial, keeping goods that should have been turned in and withholding information about possible brutality by other officers.

To use this high-tech method of lie detection, the person being interviewed speaks into a microphone and software, run on a laptop, measures voice modulations.

The problem, Furedy said, is the operators of these machines don’t really know what they’re measuring.

“Voice can vary for a number of reasons and we don’t know whether it’s relative to certain stimuli or not,” he said.

The CVSA can be used on taped interviews and claims to give officers fresh leads on cold cases.

The $10,000 US device is used by more than 1,000 law enforcement and government agencies south of the border, and recently Canadian forces have been buying it, said a spokesman for its manufacturer, the National Institute for Truth Verification.

In the past two years departments in Lethbridge and Camrose, Alta., Edmunston and Rothsay, N.B., Vancouver and Saanich, B.C., in the Victoria area, have purchased the system from the West Palm Beach, Fla., company.

“Canada just recently started to really get involved,” said executive director David Hughes.

Hughes said the company only sells the CVSA to law enforcement and government agencies and has buyers sign a contract prohibiting them from passing the equipment on to anyone else.

There are fears that it could fall into the hands of organized criminals and be used on suspected undercover officers.

People taking the test don’t have to be hooked up to the machine, as is the case with a polygraph, and therefore wouldn’t know it was being performed on them unless told.

Marshall Chalmers, chief of the Camrose police force, said his investigators always inform people being tested because they have the right to refuse it.

“We say, OK, if you’re really telling the truth, prove it to us,” he said.

Chalmers said that in the first six months after purchasing the CVSA last August, it was used to solve 42 criminal cases.

“That’s a dramatic increase. It’s an integral part of our operation now.”

He said people have been brought in on charges and in the course of their CVSA test, other crimes they had committed came to light.

Before buying the device, Camrose police had to share a $20,000 polygraph machine with a number of municipal organizations. Only suspects of major crimes were eligible and there was a three-week wait list.

“That gave the suspects plenty of time to change their minds about taking the test,” Chalmers said.

The chief read about the CVSA in a police magazine and ordered one of his officers to research its effectiveness.

“This is leading edge technology and it is advancing quickly across the U.S.,” Chalmers said.

“We talked to numerous departments that are using it and were convinced of its accuracy. The CVSA is 100 per cent accurate. With the polygraph, there’s a grey area.”

Furedy said “it’s pretty scary” that police have that kind of faith in the machine.

“It’s a sign of a fundamentally superstitious society, certainly here in North America. The reality is that you can never determine with 100 per cent accuracy whether someone is telling the truth.”

Lie-detection devices are a scare tactic he said, that can sometimes push people into confessing to crimes they didn’t commit.

He has testified at many criminal trials and convinced juries to throw out such admissions.

One was the trial of a 74-year old crossing guard who was accused of molesting a girl. He was under accusation for a month and his community was suspicious of him, Furedy said.

He failed the test and in a post-exam interview that lasted several hours Furedy said the man got so angry he confessed in order to put an end to the questions.

“He just wanted to get out of there and figured he would talk to his lawyer and sort it out.”

The confession was eventually thrown out and the man was found not guilty.

Furedy said all lie-detection tests are subjective and results vary depending on the way the questions are worded and the relationship the interviewer has with the interviewee.

Saanich Police Insp. John Charlton, who heads the department’s detective division, said he only uses the CVSA to point him in the right direction.

“Every result we’ve gotten through the CVSA we then go out and corroborate with evidence and we’ve found it to be very effective. If there were any credibility issues with the device, we wouldn’t use it.”

“Computer Voice Stress Analysis Test, Lie-Detector Tests Come Under Question”

Mark Dadigan reports for the Vero Beach Press Journal. Excerpt:

The pace of your heartbeats quickens, your breaths deepen and beads of sweat slide down your skin.

According to some law-enforcement circles, you’ve probably just lied.

Since the 1930s, polygraphs, or lie-detector tests, which theoretically link physiological changes to honesty, have been used as investigative tools in guiding detectives to suspects and eventual arrests.

However, the accuracy of these tests is the subject of much debate — some detectives swear by the tests while critics proclaim lie detectors as nothing but “pseudoscience.”

“It’s simply an investigative tool,” said Lt. Dan Cook of the Vero Beach Police Department, which uses the polygraph tests. “It helps us key on an area of question where a subject might not be truthful. Normally, to be honest, it’s very accurate.”

The computer voice stress analysis test, which correlates the amount of stress in a voice recording to the truthfulness of the speaker, came under scrutiny from within the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office after Detective Jim Hyde was suspended for five days last month, partially because he failed a voice test, according to Sheriff’s Office records.

Hyde was being interviewed because an inmate accused Hyde of assaulting him, and it was the stress of dealing with the allegation that led to the poor test results, he said.

The Sheriff’s Office uses the voice stress tests as a tool as the police use the polygraphs, said Sheriff’s Office spokesman Deputy Joe Flescher, and subjects applicants to the tests.

“It’s a very useful tool, especially when people say they have vague memories of the past,” Flescher said.

But there are those against the use of the tests even in internal investigations. “It’s ridiculous that a disciplinary action would be taken on an officer based on those tests,” said George W. Matschke [sic], cofounder of an Internet-based group Antipoly- graph.org, which lobbies for the abolishment of the test by law-enforcement and other agencies.

“Case Underscores Pitfalls of Voice Analysis”

Staff writer Steven Mayer of the Bakersfield Californian reports. Excerpt:

When Escondido police questioned 14-year-old Michael Crowe in the days following the 1998 stabbing death of his 12-year-old sister, investigators used a Computer Voice Stress Analyzer during the interrogation.

The analyzer — a lie detector of sorts used by an estimated 1,300 police agencies in the United States, including some in Kern County — allegedly showed Michael was lying when he said he knew nothing about his sister’s murder.

“Science is in our favor. Technology is on our side,” detectives told the distraught teen-ager.

Although there was no physical evidence linking Michael to the crime, the boy eventually came to doubt his own memory. Over the course of several days of interrogation, police lied to him about finding his sister’s blood in his room. But lying to suspects — even about physical evidence — is not against the law.

With the help of the voice-stress analyzer and police disinformation regarding evidence, Michael eventually broke down and confessed.

More than a year later, a judge threw out Michael’s confession after his sister’s DNA matched blood found spattered on the clothes of a mentally ill transient who was seen near the Crowe residence the night of the killing.

The case has since shed new light on police interrogation techniques, and raised serious concerns about the widespread use by police of the Computer Voice Stress Analyzer.

“It’s voodoo science,” said Kyle Humphrey, a criminal defense attorney in Bakersfield who also spent several years as a prosecutor in the Kern County District Attorney’s Office.

Humphrey said the devices increase the chance that police will get a false confession, especially from immature or uneducated people who may be fooled into believing the devices are infallible.

“When you are told by police you failed the test, you are out of hope,” he said. “I will not allow any client to participate in interviews using a voice-stress analyzer.”

“Is This Lie Detector Telling the Truth?”

Christina Lewis reports for Court TV. Excerpt:

(Court TV) – Richard Allen Nicolas’ story seemed suspicious. An unknown gunman shot at his car, killing his 2-year-old daughter, Aja. Plus, police found that his muffler was cold, although Nicolas said he had been parked a short time.

But police had little hard evidence against Nicolas until he was hooked up to a computer voice stress analyzer (CVSA), a machine designed to detect lies by monitoring small vibrations in a person’s voice, and failed the test. He confessed.

Nicolas is now serving life in prison without parole for his daughter’s murder.

To hear some police officers tell it, the CVSA, a laptop device designed to detect lies by monitoring a person’s voice, is the greatest thing since handcuffs.

Imagine: no need to corner a suspect, attach multiple wires to him and have an expensive professional ask him a number of specific control questions. To use the voice stress analyzer, police just play a tape of the suspect talking, run it through the $10,000 laptop, and find out if he’s truthful. So easy to use, the CVSA can surreptitiously verify the honesty of prospective employees, ferret out fraudulent insurance claims, and resolve disputes when it’s one person’s word against another’s. Or so its creators say.

According to the National Institute for Truth Verification, the Palm Beach-based company that makes and markets the CVSA, you simply attach a microphone to the subject (or to the tape recorder or phone line), run the sounds into the device and get your results.

The device monitors the frequency of “micro-tremors,” vibrations in the voice undetectable to human ears, that increase when a person lies. While the subject is speaking, the CVSA measures and displays any changes in the vibrations.

For each voice pattern the machine shows a graph: a high peak denotes a true statement, while a jagged plateau indicates a lie.

Approximately 1,200 law enforcement agencies use the CVSA, and supporters say that its convenience and accuracy will lead more departments to let their polygraphs, the more well-known truth verifier, start collecting dust.

But not everyone is enthusiastic about it. In at least a few high-profile cases, the device has appeared to be wrong. And a number of lawyers, civilians and scientists say the CVSA has no scientific validity.

“It’s basically a Ouija board,” said Nevada lawyer Ian Christopherson, who successfully defended a juvenile probation officer against a rape charge prosecuted largely on the basis of a voice stress test.

Christopherson’s client, Vincent Sedgewick, took a CVSA test assuming it would clear him. Instead, it pointed to him as the rapist. When DNA testing did not match him to the sample recovered from the victim, however, police arrested him as an accessory based on the CVSA results. Although CVSA tests cannot be used as evidence in court, in some states to support an indictment.

Critics of the CVSA say that officers’ belief in the infallibility of the lie detector is one of its greatest dangers.

In the case of 14-year-old Michael Crowe, a California teen who confessed to his older sister’s murder, investigators administered a CVSA that allegedly showed Crowe was lying when he claimed to know nothing about his sister’s murder. Although there was no physical evidence linking Michael to the crime, investigators continued interrogating him after his voice stress test and got him to confess. A judge later through out his confession, and another man was charged with the crime.

“If you take a look at the Crowe case you have police relying upon this quackery directing their investigation in the wrong direction,” Christopherson said. “That’s why it’s incredible law enforcement allows this out there because people start believing that this device can actually be accurate.”