Playing detective with the truth is a dangerous game.

Playing detective with the truth is a dangerous game. Image source: Flickr user AJ Cann.

The “do it yourself” movement is good in some instances, but the downside is that it has increasingly led people to believe they don’t need a professional or any training of their own to complete a complex task. This is especially true when people can purchase technology similar to that used by experts. We’ve seen this happen frequently in the security and investigation field. Installing home CCTV systems which gather evidence when a babysitter hurts your child or someone breaks into your car can be advantageous, but things get out of control when people purchase tools such as covert recorders without understanding the legal ramifications of recording someone.

And there’s a new DIY attraction which is even more dangerous—home versions of truth verification. While we all want to be able to catch lies, only those who manufacture and use professional grade technology understand how to properly use these systems and accurately analyze the results. We may be living in a “post-truth” culture where the truth has become somewhat malleable, but civilians playing detective can unintentionally hurt other people’s reputations, cause legal problems, and damage the image of real truth verification systems and the hard working law enforcement officials who use them.

The Flaws of Home Versions of Truth Verification

Despite strong marketing materials, a home version of anything won’t be the same as the professional model, which usually costs thousands of dollars more and has undergone vigorous scientific testing. Take the Computer Voice Stress Analyzer (CVSA®). This technology is used by over 2,000 U.S. police departments to help law enforcement verify statements which often lead to confessions. After both lab and field testing, the CVSA has been found to have a 96.4% accuracy rating, and, unlike the polygraph, there are no known countermeasures that can beat it.

While there are no home versions of the CVSA itself, we did find an open source VSA online. Of course, it has bugs and does not include either instructions or support. Perhaps it could even damage your computer. CVSA technology records and analyzes stressors in the human voice, so outside of the complex software that evaluates this data, the only accessories are a microphone. This might lead one to believe it’s a simple technology and that downloading this free version could help someone discover if their teenager stole money or if their employee is lying. But conducting a non-professional test like this using open source software isn’t going to provide anywhere near accurate results; it may as well be a parlor game.

There is a version of the polygraph being marketed in that way—as a party “Truth or Dare” game. The real polygraph is pricey because it uses sensors, pneumographs tubes, and a blood pressure cuff to measure physiological reactions. So, it makes sense that, despite one Amazon product that supposedly works “just like the $5,000 models,” purchasing one for under $100 isn’t going to get you the real thing. On top of that, the manufacturer even states that it has 80%-99% accuracy—but even professional polygraph manufacturers and users can’t claim those statistics, as the polygraph is prone to false positives, negatives, and inconclusive results, as well as being vulnerable to countermeasures.

Examining “suspects” for fun or hooking up your family to see if they are lying isn’t something amateurs should be experimenting with, and truth verification experts know you shouldn’t use your skills to interrogate your loved ones anyway. Asking someone to take a “lie detector” test when you have no experience running the exam is like asking a plumber to perform open heart surgery; it’s risky and it doesn’t work well. Civilians who attempt to take on the tasks of law enforcement could run into legal trouble if they try to coerce someone to take a truth verification exam or make important decisions—such as choosing to fire someone—based on the results of a shoddy instrument. And even if no laws are broken, they could harm someone’s reputation by making false claims of deception based on the findings of a cheap tool. People who do this also disrespect the refined processes law enforcement has put in place after lengthy study of how to properly use truth verification systems to obtain accurate information.

The Education and Experience of Experts

Not just anyone can use a truth verification system, and those who become truth verification specialists go through in-depth training to learn how to effectively use the technology. After all, a tool is only as good as the person using it, and untrained or improperly trained examiners cancel out the accuracy of truth verification through misuse. For example, interviews can be conducted in an improper manner where suspects are interrogated too long, they are asked leading questions, or they are intimidated into making a false confession. That is one of many reasons why CVSA Examiners spend over fifty hours studying physiology and psychology, interviewing and interrogation techniques, test construction and question formulation, and covert interviewing and analysis before certification. Part of that training is learning how to conduct a proper interview using a process called the Defense Barrier Removal® (DBR) which effectively obtains information without the use of coercion. Our police departments are committed to best practices and ensuring that not only the guilty are caught in their lies, but that innocent people are also cleared.

Once CVSA Examiners are certified, they still work to advance their knowledge and take part in continuing education seminars to ensure they are keeping their skills up-to-date. Examiners also have an organization, The National Association of Computer Voice Stress Analysts, which represents members from over 2,000 US law enforcement agencies and thousands of criminal justice professionals across the country. This organization aids CVSA Examiners with ongoing professional development, ensures that members uphold professional standards, and provides a Professional Certification Program so agencies can be sure their CVSA Examiners have a strong understanding of the technology they rely on to do their jobs. This kind of thorough training just isn’t something you can learn from a YouTube tutorial or an instruction booklet.  

Members of law enforcement who become CVSA Examiners take their role in truth verification seriously. When amateurs turn truth verification into a game, it dilutes the work done by professionals in the field. If civilians want to play word games, suggest Scrabble—but leave truth verification to the experts.

Please reach out to us at NITV Federal Services to learn more about our CVSA systems and training programs.