12 April 2007
Lie detectors are to be routinely used on sick and disabled claimants even where there are no grounds for suspecting them of fraud, Work and Pensions Secretary John Hutton has announced.
The use of 'Voice Risk Analysis' (VRA) software, developed by the Israeli secret service to use against terrorists will be piloted by Harrow Council before being introduced in Jobcentre Plus next year. The scheme is being run by Capita, a private sector company which already has significant contracts with the DWP and which bought an exclusive licence to use the software in the UK at around the time of undocumented contacts between the software owners, Digilog, and DWP staff.
According to its designers, VRA software first establishes the normal pattern of a callers voice and then detects minute changes which may indicate that the caller is lying. The system is used by some major insurance companies. Critics argue that the technology is questionable, is known to produce a high number of false positive readings and requires a great deal of expertise to use.
The evidence from the lie detector itself is very unlikely to be submitted to tribunals or courts, it will instead be used as a catalyst for further enquiries. So, where a claimant is identified by the software as having possibly lied, the DWP will then consider investigating their claim further, possibly by covert means or by inviting them in for an interview.
No indication has yet been given of how much the scheme is likely to cost the taxpayer or what savings are expected to result from a reduction in the rate of fraud. Sceptics may believe that the real savings will come from the number of honest claimants, particularly those with mental health conditions, who will not make a claim for benefits because of the anxiety caused by knowing they will be subject to a lie detector test.
Benefits and Work first drew attention to the DWP's contacts with DigiLog, the software's owners, in 2005. (See: Secretive DWP lie detector investigations continue).
However, the details of the DWP's initial meetings and discussions with DigiLog, remain shrouded in secrecy: in response to a Freedom of Information request from Benefits and Work, the DWP made the extraordinary claim that no records whatsoever were kept of the contacts. As Benefits and Work also reported, in February 2005, at around the same time as the meetings took place, Capita bought the exclusive rights to use DigiLogs VRA technology with public sector clients.
That acquisition now has the potential to make Capita millions of pounds in additional profits whilst heaping further humiliation upon sick and disabled claimants already being portrayed as work shy frauds in government advertising and by the media.