We Tested Europe’s New Lie Detector For Travellers — And Immediately Triggered a False Positive

Welcome to the future of border security.

By Ryan Gallagher and Ludovica Jona and cross-posted from The Intercept

They call it the Silent Talker. It is a virtual policeman designed to strengthen Europe’s borders, subjecting travelers to a lie detector test before they are allowed to pass through customs.

Prior to your arrival at the airport, using your own computer, you log on to a website, upload an image of your passport, and are greeted by an avatar of a brown-haired man wearing a navy blue uniform.

“What is your surname?” he asks. “What is your citizenship and the purpose of your trip?” You provide your answers verbally to those and other questions, and the virtual policeman uses your webcam to scan your face and eye movements for signs of lying.

At the end of the interview, the system provides you with a QR code that you have to show to a guard when you arrive at the border. The guard scans the code using a handheld tablet device, takes your fingerprints, and reviews the facial image captured by the avatar to check if it corresponds with your passport. The guard’s tablet displays a score out of 100, telling him whether the machine has judged you to be truthful or not.

A person judged to have tried to deceive the system is categorized as “high risk” or “medium risk,” dependent on the number of questions they are found to have falsely answered. Our reporter — the first journalist to test the system before crossing the Serbian-Hungarian border earlier this year — provided honest responses to all questions but was deemed to be a liar by the machine, with four false answers out of 16 and a score of 48. The Hungarian policeman who assessed our reporter’s lie detector results said the system suggested that she should be subject to further checks, though these were not carried out.

Travelers who are deemed dangerous can be denied entry, though in most cases they would never know if the avatar test had contributed to such a decision. The results of the test are not usually disclosed to the traveler; The Intercept obtained a copy of our reporter’s test only after filing a data access request under European privacy law

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