UK politician slams 'lie detector' fraud tests

January 23, 2013 by Jill Lawless

A British politician has resigned over a county council's decision to use voice analysis technology that some liken to lie detector tests on people claiming a tax discount.

Fiona Ferguson, leader of the Conservative group on Cornwall Council in southwestern England, says she has a "fundamental ethical objection" to this use of the technology.

"It is clearly right that Cornwall Council takes a strong line against people who deliberately mis-claim tax benefits but in this case I am more concerned about the impact on the vast majority of honest claimants," she said in a letter Tuesday resigning her post in the county Cabinet.

The council said Wednesday it had hired private outsourcing firm Capita to use "specialist technology" to assess people claiming a discount for one-adult households. The council says it hopes to save 1 million pounds ($1.6 million) currently lost to fraud.

Capita claims its "voice risk analysis" technology can identify "the effects of emotions, stress, cognitive activity and other factors through micro-changes in the callers' voice frequencies."

Capita's website says the technology was introduced in 2008 and has been used by local authorities nationwide.

It was given a trial run by Britain's Department for Work and Pensions several years ago, but a 2010 report concluded that evidence of the technology's effectiveness was not strong enough to recommend its use.

Civil liberties group Big Brother Watch said it had not seen evidence that the technology was being used by many local authorities.

Its deputy director, Emma Carr, said Cornwall Council had "completely wasted money on an illiberal and unproven technology."

"This sort of action stinks of 'guilty until proven innocent' and perhaps it would be more useful to introduce more rigorous checks and testing before benefits are handed out," she said.

Explore further: Brain responds to human voice in one fifth of a second


Related Stories

Swedish Research Council to bar cheaters

October 6, 2010

Barred for up to ten years from receiving research grants from the Swedish Research Council. There will be serious consequences for the few researchers who are guilty of plagiarism, falsification, or inventing results.

UK watchdog: Stop recording taxi conversations

July 25, 2012

(AP) — Britain's information watchdog on Wednesday ordered a city council to stop the mandatory recording of people's conversations in taxis, saying the policy breaches the Data Protection act.

Recommended for you

Dutch create world's largest man-made wave

October 5, 2015

In a country where most people live below sea level, studying the oceans is a matter of survival. Now Dutch scientists have created the world's biggest man-made wave in a bid to prepare for the worst.


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

2.3 / 5 (3) Jan 23, 2013
These technologies should only be deployed after there use on politicians and their ilk.
not rated yet Jan 24, 2013
Lie detectors like that "voice risk analysis" are relics of commercialized superstition.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.