Brits to Try Lie Detectors for Benefits Seekers

The British government's Department for Work and Pensions this month began using voice-risk analysis on phone calls to its benefits offices in North London as a way to crack down on fraud that costs the government an estimated 1 billion euros ($1.36 billion) a year.

The technology, which is being piloted in North London before being rolled out across the United Kingdom, will monitor a person's voice throughout the phone conversation for any changes in tone or speed that may indicate that someone is not telling the truth. Applicants suspected of lying would have to provide extra evidence to support their claims.

British Work and Pensions Secretary John Hutton has said that the plan is necessary to weed out the small minority of callers who file fraudulent claims, but labor union leaders across the U.K. have argued that the plan could deter legitimate claim-seekers from filing for benefits.

The Trades Union Congress called on the government today to abandon its plans, claiming the accuracy of the technology has not been scientifically proven, and individuals with genuine cases are likely to be discouraged from applying for the help they desperately need.

The TUC says that the problem with the lie detection technology that the DWP intends to use is that it cannot detect lies. Voice risk analysis can only detect, with varying accuracy, changes in the body, such as heart or breathing rate, or any changes in the tone, pitch or tremors in the voice.

"Ministers should think again and abandon any plans to subject benefit claimants to untested lie detector technology," TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said in a statement. "Unfortunately people for whom deception is a way of life tend to pass lie detector tests with flying colors while the scrupulously honest often fail. If people know that their voices are to be analyzed for every blip and tremor, the danger is that genuine claimants will be intimidated into withdrawing their claims, or will have to wait ages for their money while they provide extra evidence."

"The vast majority of people who receive benefits are genuinely entitled to them," Hutton has said. "However, there is a minority who are intent on stealing money from those who need it most. This technology aims to tackle these fraudsters while speeding up claims and improving customer service for the honest majority."

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