back to article Taxman rejects 'lie detector' tech

The government has denied claims it will extend use of telephone "lie detector" tests to the tax system. Proponents of such software - known as voice risk analysis (VRA) - say it is able to calculate the probability someone is lying over the phone by measuring variations in their voice. Scientists charge it is no better at …


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  1. Pete 2 Silver badge

    bluffs of our time

    Classic fishing expedition stuff. So far as the tax authorities goes they don't have to use the tech, they just have to make people *think* they're using it. Since no-one on the end of a phone call from the tax man (or woman) can possibly know what they've got wired up to their phone, the conversation can be as simple as:

    "Sorry Mr. Pete 2, but our Voice Risk Analyser says you're not being entirely truthful there"

    "Ok, you've got me. I *did* forget to include the £1.04p interest from my curent account in last year's tax return"

    Which, when it comes down to it is exactly the same technique that the TV Detector vans have been using for decades.

    1. N2 Silver badge


      But, in the current Orwellian climate this country has steadily sunk into over the last 12 years or so, I could almost conceive it a reality.

      Oh well, another box of golf balls with that daft tax man character on them...

    2. Anonymous Coward

      It is all a bluff

      It costs more money to bring the average tax evader to justice, than the tax that would have been collected in the first place. This is why they don't blink much of an eye at shedding the fraud department jobs when times are hard.

      In order to make ANY technology work, they've got to balance the cost of collection in favour of the government rather than the individual; eg. make the tax evader liable for the associated collection costs, for example.

      Until they do something as critical as that, then there is no financial benefit in bringing tax evaders to justice. If they really want money, then going after the tax havens is the only way to do it under the present system.

  2. This post has been deleted by a moderator

    1. David Pollard


      "All of this evil, anti-human software seems to come from Israel."

      Well, no doubt a considerable amount does and the world might well be better without it. But 'all' is a bit harsh.

      What's equally notable, and somewhat paradoxical, is that Israel's culture with its bias towards study and learning also seems to produce a great number of first-rate thinkers.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    I believe in this technology...

    ..and you can ring me up and ask me on that.

    Call 020 7938 6000 nad ask for the F*ckwit in Chief

  4. Tom7

    This is real???

    Sometimes reality is stranger than BOFH... or at least just as strange.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Could someone please explain why you have to withdraw something because of threats?

    I know people say it costs more to defend a case but if you simply told them to take a running jump what could they do? If you are so confident in what you have printed and it has gone on the internet who/what/where are the people complaining going after. If someone has a court ruling against them in country X but they live, work, publish in country Y does this really affect them?

    At least we always have the "Streisand effect"

    1. Graham Marsden


      The problem is that if you are being sued you have to waste time and effort and money hiring lawyers, compiling a defence etc.

      Even if (or when) you win, you're not guaranteed to get your costs back, so you still lose out :-(

      1. Claus P. Nielsen

        Only works if you allow it to work

        The cost of litigation is not one sided, so both parties will have to spend money to fight a case.

        This means that if more journals were to publish the same results, the company would then have to sue them all - adding up the cost to a level where it is more of a threat against the company than against the individual journals (they may even be able to join the cases up, so they can split the cost.

    2. fandom


      There is an old curse in Spain, hard to translate but it is something like "have your day at court and win"

  6. TeeCee Gold badge

    Yes, but...

    .....this 'ere detector says the Taxman is lying.

  7. Graham Marsden

    Nemesysco [..] threatened to sue the journal for libel

    Whilst providing evidence that their system did work at a level "better than chance", of course.

    What? They didn't show any evidence?

    But surely they must have *tested* the thing under controlled conditions before making their claims that it would reliably "detect lies"...???

    1. kissingthecarpet
      Gates Horns

      They did test it...

      and it did what it was supposed to.

      Make wads of cash for the dodgy geezers behind it.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Well AFAIK if you are recording a telephone (unless you are GCHQ!!), you are supposed to inform the other party, or issue a beep every 15 seconds?

    As a matter of policy I NEVER speak to government departments, as they will deny ever having had a conversation on the phone, a paper/email/fax is so much more preferable when I have to take them to court.

    If I was forced to speak to them it would have to be face to face, with the conversation recorded on my own recorder.

    1. jonathanb Silver badge

      Re: Hum..

      If you are recording a telephone call, you are required to inform one of the parties to the call, so provided you know you are recording your phone call, it is perfectly legal. If you record a call between two third parties and neither of them know about the recording, then you are breaking the law.

  9. Anonymous Coward

    The real reason this will never catch on ...

    is because *if* the power that be start using it, with the excuse "it works", they will be confronted with the population using it on *them*.

    1. John H Woods Silver badge

      May I be one of hundreds ...

      ... to point out that there is already an almost 100% foolproof way of determining whether a politician is lying ... ?

  10. Jonathan Richards 1 Silver badge

    Fare shairs for all

    >"HMRC has a responsibility to ensure that everyone pays there fair share of tax, in full and on time," he said.

    Ah, it might have *sounded* as if that was what he said, but actually he said "...their fair share of tax". I know, it must have been the stress levels causing a spelling failure.

    1. Alan B

      @ Jonathan Richards 1

      Egsackly wot eye woz finkin!

  11. Mad Dave

    A simpler solution

    would be to never call them, and to not give them your phone number.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      you called them, they have your phone number, even if you have had it withheld, they are a government department.

  12. Pat 11

    Nasty business.

    From The Times

    March 11, 2010

    Libel laws silenced me, says Francisco Lacerda, critic of lie detector system

    Mark Henderson, Science Editor

    England’s libel laws have been used to silence scientific critics of lie detection technology on which the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) has spent £2.4 million.

    An academic from Sweden will tell MPs today how a paper challenging the principles behind the voice risk analysis (VRA) system was withdrawn by his publisher after legal threats from its manufacturer.

    In an interview with The Times before a House of Commons seminar on his case, Francisco Lacerda, professor of phonetics at Stockholm University, said that the case showed how English law was damaging science abroad as well as in the UK.

    Because English was the international language of science, and many important academic journals were based in Britain, anybody who published controversial work could be at risk of being sued, he said.

    Libel law was also suppressing information that should be available in the public interest, he added. A public interest defence and controls on costs were needed to protect free scientific debate.

    “I feel my duty to return to society the knowledge I have been gathering cannot be done because of the English libel laws,” Professor Lacerda said. “MPs have to find a way to allow scientists to challenge claims freely.

    “It is a big problem, not only for English scientists. If you publish in English, as scientists must, you are at risk.”

    Professor Lacerda has come to London to support the Libel Reform Coalition, which is campaigning for changes in the law after a series of high-profile defamation actions against scientists.

    Simon Singh, the science writer, is being sued by the British Chiropractic Association for questioning the evidence for its medical claims, and Peter Wilmshurst, a cardiologist, is being sued over his criticisms of an American company’s heart implant trial.

    The campaign has been backed by Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader, and more than 40,000 people have signed a petition calling for reform.

    In 2007, Professor Lacerda and Anders Eriksson, of Gothenburg University, published an article entitled “Charlatanry in Forensic Speech Science” in the International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law. It criticised the science behind analysis technologies that purport to identify stressed voices, which may indicate lying.

    One VRA system, designed by Nemesysco, an Israeli company, is being evaluated in 24 pilot studies by the DWP, as a means of highlighting potential benefit fraud. The DWP has spent £2.4 million on the pilots, which are due to report back soon. Nemesysco threatened the journal with a libel action over the article, which was withdrawn from its website.

    Amir Liberman, who devised the technology, said the paper contained inaccuracies that could damage his business, and that he had particularly objected to the title’s implication that he was a charlatan.

    “Scientists’ words are taken for more than face value and therefore call for even higher responsibility,” he said. “Nobody should be protected against gross slander and defamation, and this includes scientists.”

    Professor Lacerda said he felt it important that governments, insurance companies and other agencies that might buy the technology were aware of his concerns. The withdrawal of the paper will limit access to his work.

    “We expected a rebuttal of the claims, but in the academic literature, not in court,” he said. “That has a suffocating effect on science.”

    A spokeswoman for the DWP said officials running the trial were aware of the Lacerda paper, and that the department had a duty “to do everything we can to stop fraud in the benefit system".

    Tracey Brown, of Sense About Science, which is part of the Libel Reform Coalition, said: “With such high costs and few defences, it is not surprising that threats of libel action from big companies succeed in getting publications withdrawn and critical views silenced.”

    Dr Singh said that the case showed the international reach of English libel law.

    “It is bad enough that English libel law can intimidate British scientists, but when our law begins to silence overseas academics such as Professor Lacerda then we need to take responsibility for the global chill caused by our legal system.”

    1. Anonymous Coward


      its libel to publish in English?, or in England (well probably), any way, found it in < 1s on google.

  13. Steven Knox

    Sofa's Tree

    "However, there are currently no plans for the department to use lie detector or voice detection software."

    Of course not. He's speaking BEFORE the speech where they'll unveil the plans, so there aren't any currently. Currently, there are only plans to have plans.

    Lie detectors don't work on people who believe the lie.

  14. JaitcH

    Modulated audio confuss these things

    Ever heard of flutter on audio systems? Where a recorded note is modulated by a defect in the audio transmission system?

    This 'vibrato' effect can come from telephone carrier systems, cell radio systems and by audio systems. The effect can be reproduced, to nullify the effectiveness of this 'magical' Israeli technology, by having a loud thumping pop 'music' in the background so you have to shout.

    Some integrity and just another way of extracting funds from taxpayers into police budgets.

    Feel free to sue, all this 'technology' depends on so many extraneous sources including the cooperation of the subject.

    Imagine the late Tiny Tim ("Tiptoe Through the Tulips") < > answering questions, monitored by this box of junk!

  15. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

    If VRA catches on ...

    ... I want one so I can practice fooling it.

  16. Dale 3

    Homeopathy the 21st century.

  17. Gerrit Hoekstra

    What about people with "interesting accents"?

    ... like mine? My so-called "voice variations" would certainly incur the ire of an entire SWAT team at my front door. Speaking of which (uh-huh), don't most claimants also have "interesting accents"?

    Mine's the one with the book on un-PC use-case analysis.

  18. Anonymous Coward


    If you're the kind of asshole who goes around lying to people then chances are good that your body doesn't produce the physical response to lying that all lie detectors look for. Even a well intentioned person can train themselves to cheat any lie detector in a trivial amount of time.

    That's why you won't see lie detectors anywhere other than the set of cheesy game shows. This software is the perfect example of what our government expects technology to be. They desperately want ways to factory farm people. They can't afford to let people run around government making decisions. Too damn risky. But if they can program a piece of software to make all the decisions and tell the employees that they can be fired for disobeying the software, well then, they're well on their way to the perfect police state.

    And they want it so desperately that they're prepared to ignore the fact that the software basically doesn't work anyway. They're like a drug addict who keeps going back for another fix, even though he knows the stuff he's getting is 95% worming powder.

  19. Schultz

    sounds prety good to me...

    "no better than tossing a coin"

    So it would beat throwing the dice or pulling a card out of the deck! A 50% success rate is not to be pooh-poohd, it's halfway to perfection. Stop talking down the bright future of technology.

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