I was amazed the other day when listening to BBC Radio 4 to hear that a bill, The Domestic Abuse Bill, would make those released from prison after serving a sentence for domestic abuse, subject to compulsory lie detector tests.

I think domestic abuse is a serious crime that should be dealt with by the law as severely as any other type of assault or coercion. Perhaps more so given the breach of trust involved in the offence in addition to the actual physical or mental harm caused.

However, introducing, or rather extending, the use of an imperfect technology like the polygraph into the English legal system marks another step in the thoughtless and naive acceptance of technology into realms it has no right to invade.

Polygraphs don’t work.

Who says so?

The government.

The Home Office use the tests to monitor high risk sex offenders. They say, with apparent pride for some reason, that they are ‘89%’ accurate.

Advocates (largely meaning those who sell the technology) claim ‘between’ 80 % and 90% accuracy, when administered by expert ‘professionals’.

When we get to the debacle of things like the Jeremy Kyle Show, or the US Intelligence community’s use in the past to give themselves a false sense of security (Walker-Whitworth anybody?) you can see how they really perform in the field.

They aren’t allowed as evidence in UK courts and we should stop the thin edge of the wedge in their acceptance in law enforcement circles right now. Before it’s too late. It always starts with ‘a trial’, in ‘unique circumstances’ but before you know where you are the argument s being made: `well it’s used in sex offence and domestic abuse situations, why not….’

Already employment in law in the UK allows their use, which frankly is an abuse which should be stopped immediately.

Of course this is old hat analogue tech. The opportunities for invading civil liberties with digital are much more exciting (worrying).


Take facial recognition software. Trials done (without input from the great unwashed British Public who were the victims) then implemented on the nod. Now the Met are using it and it is spreading.  Of course chaotic situations that have pertained in the West since 9/11 and 7/7 have meant that anyone wondering aloud about civil liberties have been hit with the big stick of ‘A government’s first responsibility is the safety of its citizens’.


And the best way of doing that is using the existing technology, legislation and services rather than running off and installing the next bit of kit that may be abused in future by governments of unknown provenance.

And of course the tech doesn’t work either. The only independent study on the Met’s system showed it was accurate in just 19% of cases. The argument of course is that live deployment and tweaking in the field will improve the system. Given the use facial recognition software is put to in repressive regimes like China I am not sure that fills me with confidence.


And of course the one beloved of students, the ‘anti-plagiarism’ software of Turnitin and their ilk.

Again, it is an intrusive and abusive system introduced to crack one problem that is being misused for lots of others. To be fair to Turnitin, they are quite clear (somewhat disingenuously) that ‘Turnitin actually does not check for plagiarism in your work.’ When trying to sell their ‘nice’ side to students.

I say disingenuous because they also say they provide ‘Holistic online tools that support better writing – from preventing plagiarism and ensuring originality and authorship…’ and as the Daily Telegraph reported on 1 February 2018, their software is designed to catch ‘contract cheating.’

Again I am wholeheartedly in favour of people having to do their own work. But as usual a hammer introduced to crack a nut smashes a lot of other fingers.

If the company being used has a database which has seen the essay before it will catch it. Good stuff. But it also catches lots of other things – like to quote your sources? And who doesn’t – that gets flagged as a similarity- it better be or something has gone wrong hasn’t it? Paraphrasing can also be flagged and sometimes common three word phrases that we all use every day get the ‘I think I’ve seen this before’ treatment.

Of course used appropriately as recommended by the purveyors of this stuff and everything will be all right won’t it?

Well possibly, if Universities can use it properly and exercise a bit of common sense.

Go online and search for Turnitin and similar (see what I did there?) systems’ queries and worries by students and you will see something very different. The bald ‘similarity score’ triggering hearings and despair, unjust proceedings where accusers are the judge in their own cases and more.


Misuse of a blunt similarity tracker, intrusive scanning of innocent people’s faces and letting a failed system of technological measurement take over normal legal procedures are the obvious errors of our love affair with technology. We have been conned into welcoming them as some sort of saviours rather than treating them as the threats they undoubtedly are.

What a Brave New World we live in!

[I nicked that last bit!]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.