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Lie Spy (video)
August 30, 2002

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Interviewee: James Levine, Mayo Clinic.

Video is 1 min 27 sec long. Please be patient while it loads enough to start playing.

Produced by Joyce Gramza

Copyright © ScienCentral, Inc., with additional footage from the Mayo Clinic and ABC News.

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Lying might seem to be the least of terrorists’ evil deeds, but it could be the one that catches them before they can do harm.

This ScienCentral News video reports on developing technology to help airport screeners do it at a glance.

Liar liar face on fire

A thermal imaging camera that can detect lying is being developed by researchers at the Mayo Clinic and Honeywell Labs.

"This is the first technology that allows lying to be measured, or lying to be detected, without any contact with the subject whatsoever, instantaneously, in real time," said Mayo Clinic endocrinologist James Levine.

The camera translates temperatures into colors. When the system is calibrated to show hotter temperatures as brighter colors and colder temperatures as darker, the area around a liar’s eyes glows white-hot. "The signal really changes quite dramatically. There’s this whitening around the eyes that’s really very intense indeed, and it occurs the instant people start lying," said Levine.

The scientists hope the camera’s first uses will be in airport security. "The idea would be that as one approaches the airport and one is asked, did you pack your own bag? Are you carrying a weapon in your bag?" Levine said. "This kind of technology may allow us to instantaneously determine whether somebody is lying."

In experiments reported in the journal Nature, Levine and Honeywell scientist Ioannis Pavlidis used both the thermal camera and polygraph tests (conducted by experts at the Department of Defense Polygraph Institute). They interrogated volunteers who were either innocent or guilty of committing a mock crime. The camera caught 83 percent of liars. That’s as accurate as the time-consuming and invasive polygraph.

"The massive advantage of this technology if it proves to be truly useful in the field, is that all one needs to do is have a camera facing somebody’s face," said Levine.

The camera is being developed along with other new security technologies, including some in the works at Honeywell. "I think that this is going to be part of our armamentarium against the terrorists, but not all of it," said Levine. "At this point in time there is such an enormous urgency to develop tools that could prevent terrorism that I think there is no question that we need to develop the technology further, and as rapidly as possible."

The researchers said the cameras could be in use as at airports in two years, but it must first get over some big research hurdles. "The next part of the experimentation process will be to determine whether its ability to detect lying is as good in the airport as it was in laboratory," Levine said. "And then to start large-scale trials in airports throughout the country."

Those experiments will use a much smaller camera than the bulky system used in earlier experiments. Pavlidis said the new technology will have applications not just in airports and at border checkpoints, but elsewhere in law enforcement. "When this technology (is) developed commercially, hopefully in a few years’ time, it is conceivable this whole system could fit right into a police officer’s uniform," Pavlidis said.

by Joyce Gramza

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