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Viable Alternatives to Spying

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We live at a time when trust is in short supply. This is unfortunate due to the essential nature of collaboration and teamwork to the success and stability of organizations, while security and safety are essential to the peace and stability of communities. Without trust, these key principles crumble. If organizations or communities want success and stability, they have to trust their own leaders, employees or citizens.

So who can you trust? How can you know if someone is untrustworthy?

The Government Solution--Spying

If we look to the governmental method of ensuring trust, we will see that spying is one of the answers. How do they spy? By listening to phone calls and reading emails and text message conversations. This method is a result of the lack trust that now exists among individuals, organizations and nations. Part of this lack of trust is due to terrorist activity at home.

After the recent terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California, where two gunmen killed fourteen people and injured several more, the FBI assures us that accessing data on the iPhone of one attacker will yield valuable insights about the terrorist organization involved. To that end, the FBI has requested that Apple write special code to unlock the terrorist's phone, and by so doing creating a backdoor into its systems. But Tim Cook, CEO of Apple Inc., has refused to comply. He contends that creating a backdoor is dangerous and is a denial of privacy. (Source)

Is Spying Really the Best Way?

This high profile terrorist case raises questions about how much information the government should be able to access. Some feel that governmental eavesdropping is acceptable to preserve national safety; they believe that citizens should have nothing to hide. In reality, this is a dangerous precedent. There are many individuals and organizations whose integrity, security, or well-being could be at risk if a backdoor was created to allow access to sensitive information on a personal phone. Who would control the use of that backdoor? Under what circumstances could it be used?

One example of an at-risk target is organizations with intellectual property or secret information that give market advantage. This type of proprietary information is developed sometimes at great cost to the organization, the loss of which could spell financial ruin. Let's face it--most employees keep highly secure information on their phones, including email accounts or documents in Google docs or Dropbox.

Giving the federal government a method to access private cell phone data could prove to be very costly if placed in the wrong hands or if sold by greedy employees to foreign governments. If foreign governments obtained this same backdoor to personal data on cell phones, there could potentially be no organization safe from the loss of private or sensitive information. Potentially, foreign governments could spy on the phones of any person living or working abroad or those visiting as tourists. This could prove to be very harmful. Why would a foreign government respect the privacy of US citizens when the federal government has shown the way?

Viable Alternatives to Spying

Spying is not the best long-term answer to protecting the rights and sensitive information of our citizens. Could there be a better way for the federal government or private industry to regulate and protect the people? Are there alternative technologies that could assist in monitoring employees or contractors, immigrants or refugees, parolees, or sex offenders?

With modern technological advances, there are solutions arising in the area of deception detection. Deception detection entails using technology to monitor a person's responses to questioning in order to determine if they are truthful or deceptive. The best criminal database in the world is a person's memory of past actions, and existing solutions attempt to tap in to this "database" to measure physiological reactions that imply deceit.

Credibility Assessment Tools

The long-standing lie detection solution used by the federal government has been the polygraph. It has been used for criminal investigations since the 1930s. However, US law prohibits private companies from using deception detection tools. Only federal, state, or local government agencies may test job applicants or employees with polygraph or similar things. These legal limitations make it a viable solution but only under specific circumstances.

To be candid, one important challenge with polygraph is that the decision about an examinee's truthfulness or deception is reached by the human examiner. Human examiners can be inexperienced, biased, fatigued, corrupted, or they may discriminate. In addition, there is no perfect lie detector. In spite of that, it can be quite effective to have the results of a lie detection test as one data point among many in making decisions.

New Technology

New methods of deception detection are more effective and versatile. Some new technologies place the decision about a person's truthfulness in the hands of computer software. With software, the decision is made without bias, fatigue, or subjectivity.

Consider the following use cases:
  • screening federal employees in highly sensitive positions
  • monitoring applicants for jobs where security is vital
  • reviewing employees that work in close proximity with children
  • screening immigrants and refugees attempting to enter the country
  • periodically reviewing the acts of parolees or sex offenders

Having a solution to periodically screen individuals under a variety of circumstances about their activities can provide enormous benefits to public safety and private industry. The San Bernardino suspects entered the country as refugees. If a program was in place to screen refugees for ties to terrorists, perhaps we could eliminate future violence.

Deception detection technology has changed. It's accurate, less intrusive, and efficient. Governments and private companies could potentially reduce violence, corruption, loss, and risk should deception detection technologies be pursued and adopted.

Note: This article and the opinions expressed here are from Russ Warner, VP of Marketing at Converus, makers of EyeDetect, an innovative, new lie detection solution.