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back to article 'Beat the lie detectors' trainer sentenced to 8 months in jail

An Indiana man was jailed for eight months on Friday for charges arising from allegations he coached federal job applicants and criminals on how to beat lie detector tests. Chad Dixon, 34, Dixon had previously pleaded guilty to the charges of wire fraud* and obstruction of an agency proceeding** on 17 December last year, but was …

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Polygraph as God

As I understand it, the more you believe in the polygraph's effectiveness at seeing inside your soul, the more effective it is as you play your tells under the all-seeing eye. Bit like God watching you disapprovingly. I'm sure there's some correlation, even a fairly decent correlation, but is there any proof of effectiveness?

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Anonymous Coward

Takes practice

But beating or confusing the machine is easy.

Most questions are yes or no,

So when asked, 'did you have an affair?'

You pause change the question in your head to 'is your name Bart Simpson?'

Or use simple arithmetic substitute the question for your own question 'is 2+2. 5?'

The answer no.

Unless you are Bart Simpson.

Hold on a minute, I'll tell you some other stuff, someone's knocking on my door....

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@ Cliff - Re: Polygraph as God

Well, if your understanding is correct and it's a belief thing (and that sounds quite reasonable to me), then it follows that if he would have programmed an iPhone app that would have taught how to beat a polygraph, it would have worked even better. And he would probably have got away with it, There's a lot of apps that are just digitised snake oil and no one cares.

Let's meet at the patent office, we're going to be rich!

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>Let's meet at the patent office, we're going to be rich!

>>Let's meet at the patent office, we're going to be rich!

If only I wasn't campaigning against the fuckedupness of USPTO and their having given up to all intents and purposes!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: @ Cliff - Polygraph as God

I assume part of the service he was offering was to connect the customer to a lie detector and practice the techniques in question.

It's one thing to know the techniques and another to be able to apply them (and have the confidence that you can apply them, too).

For example, if you're hooked up to a heart rate monitor, it's very easy to control your heart rate by simply thinking about it. After 10-20 minutes of practice, most people can raise or lower their heart rate by ~10 BPM just by thinking about it. But it's almost impossible without the feedback of a monitor. And making an iPhone app that tells you to just use your brain to lower your heart rate wouldn't help.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: >Let's meet at the patent office, we're going to be rich!

The USPTO hasn't "given up" it has been instructed to function exactly as it does by its political masters. The US economy is running in patent troll mode. Hadn't you noticed?

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Facepalm

Re: Polygraph as God

Well Cliff the motto in US courts is "In God We Trust" so that should give an insight into the mind set. People with faith in deities tend to have faith in other things proven or not (as in the case with polygraphs). Hi ho!

Anyways, just pop a couple of beta-blockers before the test and you confuse the shit out of the machine. Pop a Valium as well and your double insulated. Easy - don't even have to control breathing or heart rate.

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Re: >Let's meet at the patent office, we're going to be rich!

Think of it as an each-way bet then.

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Re: The USPTO hasn't "given up"

Yes it has, and to some extent that came before the political master threw in the box of monkey wrenches. So we're double whammied on that front.

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Sceptical

In the UK polygraphs appear to be the reserve of reality TV shows. I was particulary amused by Jeremy Kyle using polygraphy to determine which of 7 people had stolen some money, assuring us that the "Lie Detector" was "90 to 95% accurate". I don't believe that for a moment, but even if it were, the chances of any 7 tests being accurate is less than 70% at best and could be worse than evens.

I can understand how they can be used as interogation tools, but the idea that they can be used in evidence simply smacks my gob.

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Re: Sceptical

The UK teaches the scientific process to children at school. This makes it difficult to sell Polygraphs in the UK since one of the first questions asked tends to be "how does that work".

When you realise that it relies on people having responses to a question like a faster heartbeat then you realise that it's just a modern equivalent of voodoo. There is no proof that lying results in an increased heartbeat (and having worked with pathological liars i'm certain that it doesn't!) but even if it did actually work in the first place a statistically significant amount of the population will have done sports to a degree that requires you to learn to control your heartbeat, which screws metrics being used by the polygraph!

I know how to control my heartbeat since it's an essential skill for accurate shooting.

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Re: Sceptical

In the US they can not be used in in evidence.

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Unhappy

Re: Sceptical

"In the US they can not be used in in evidence."

Yet.

But I'll bet they will royally stuff you working for a govt job.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Sceptical

There are lots of places in the USofA where DNA is inadmissable... ???????

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Re: it relies on people having responses

You should note the plural in your statement. It does work to some extent, but has limits. The limits are that it works mostly on honest people who are trying to do the right thing and not so much on pathological liars. Which makes it misleading as a tool for securing agencies and businesses. On the other hand, if you are looking for people who will be able to convincing lie without other tells, it could be a useful tool.

In short, the guy this article is about is probably a louse, but I don't think he should have been put in jail for the charges on which he was tried.

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Re: Sceptical

>...even if it were, the chances of any 7 tests being accurate is less than 70%...

If it's 90 to 95% accurate for one test, surely it becomes more likely for an accurate result the more tests that are done, not less likely?

Skepticism and Probability classes were running simultaneously perhaps?

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"US Customs and Border Protection polygraphs about 10,000 applicants a year and credits the technology with uncovering 200 wrongdoers, normally people who have had an association with either drugs or people-smuggling, since the tests became compulsory two years ago."

Is that a 1% success rate? 200 "wrongdoers" over a two year period from polygraphing 20,000 people.

What's the false positive rate and false negative rates?

Polygraphs are at best stress detectors, and for many of these tests it is natural to assume the person being questioned would be stressed. The fact that the US uses them is very telling of the anti-science society in power over there, that is pushing the country further and further behind more agile competitors in the global economy.

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Happy

" Is that a 1% success rate? 200 "wrongdoers" over a two year period from polygraphing 20,000 people."

The article says 10,000 people, but even so, that would only be the success rate if all of the people tested were also "wrongdoers"!

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Devil

Lie detectors? Not really.

I held a management position in a company where I handled large sums of cash on a routine basis. Consequently, I had to take a polygraph every six months to make sure I was the kind of person they wanted to continue to employ. Because I was still quite young and the job paid very well, I routinely spent much of my salary on loose women, alcohol and casual drugs. I just wasted the rest of it. At any rate, I passed every polygraph except one. The reason I failed that one was because the person administering the test sprang an unexpected question on me. He asked "Have you ever done anything that you are ashamed of?" I laughed and said "Where do you want me to start?" He said that indicated that I had something to hide. I told management that I thought he was joking and that the test was over when I laughed. I didn't get fired and passed several more of the tests before leaving of my own accord for a better job. Take away: polygraph == snake oil.

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success rate?

It's not a 1% success rate, it's a 1% hit rate. How many of the 1% were actually truthful and how many of the 99% who passed were liars?

This is one of the reasons why polygraphs are so insidious, they dress up random noise in the garb of seemingly respectible statistics

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@JeeBee

Actually, that statement is almost completely meaningless. They don't define the meaning of "uncovered," they don't define the process, and they don't list the raw data. So you can't even reliably claim a 1% success rate. And as you correctly note, it doesn't even seem to acknowledge the problem of false positives.

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Technicality

I believe that technically he was not convicted for teaching how to beat the lie detector but for telling people to lie while under oath.

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Re: Technicality

Yes, I have a hard time understanding exactly what they might have charged the guy with.

Teaching someone how to "cheat" a lie detector test doesn't seem to me something that could qualify as illegal in an context.

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Re: Technicality

Thanks for the clarification.

However, whilst this makes the case less shocking, and although what he did was morally questionable at best, it still seems to me to be quite a draconian law.

It's not as if the guy was a doctor or police officer, or anyone else in a position of authority and trust.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Technicality

...and Lawyers don't do this as a matter of routine?

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Re: Technicality

That's a fine belief, but where's the evidence for this? Unless he explicitly tells them to lie under oath and they have evidence of it, I wouldn't convict.

And I'm the sort who thinks public executions should be brought back as a deterrent.

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Headmaster

proof readers?

Ugh!

" Teaching countermeasures against polygraph techniques in itself is not explicitly illegal in the US, although the recent case raises questions about the law around teaching polygraph countermeasures. ®"

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Teaching people to pass lie detector test is illegal?

The police lie all the time, so do judges and lawyers. I guess they don't like the competition. A lie detector test is not even allowed as evidence in court, so what is the real problem? This fascist regime in which we live just can't allow anyone to even hint that they are smarter than the idiots who run everything.

I am not a lawyer, but I bet a few carefully placed words could have averted all of this legal infarction.

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Re: Teaching people to pass lie detector test is illegal?

I thought lie-detector evidence was admissible in American courts. Am I wrong?

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Re: Teaching people to pass lie detector test is illegal?

You can volunteer to take a test as a stunt and the prosecution can use your refusal to take a test but the result isn't admissible.

However it is used for government security vetting but regular companies can't use it internally

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Re: Teaching people to pass lie detector test is illegal?

The police and to some extent lawyers not only lie, they are trained to lie in order to get a confession or admission.

Interesting Fact: A super shitty side effect of being trained to lie and to spot liars (it's the same training for both skills, you just switch roles) is that you get progressively worse at both. The longer you apply your training the more apt you are to distrust everyone (or think you're fooling everyone). When determining if someone is lying you unconsciously sacrifice your 'gut feeling' and default to examination of physical expressions of fear, nervousness and guilt. It doesn't work well. The moral of the story is that the old grizzled cop who says he "can always tell if someone is lying" can't; at least no better than flipping a coin.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Teaching people to pass lie detector test is illegal?

Aldrich Ames, Larry Wu-Tai Chin and others have shown how effective the polygraph is for vetting. < / sarcasm >

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Re: Teaching people to pass lie detector test is illegal?

I think it's admissible so long as neither party objects, which pretty much negates its already negligible relevance. Given that, I think the whole thing should be excluded from both courts and security screenings.

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Anonymous Coward

Win on Appeal?

Since polygraphs are not considered evidence in law, this chappy was tried and convicted for training someone to defeat a non-functional test. At best it is a dubious conviction, and at worst plain "NSA-ism". No wonder we don't trust the police powers too much!

Of course, this could backfire if the ACLU joins the case. The whole idea of polygraphs as a test might get thrown out as illegal or unenforceable.

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Re: Win on Appeal?

"Since polygraphs are not considered evidence in law, this chappy was tried and convicted for training someone to defeat a non-functional test."

Doesn't matter. Its interfering with law enforcement. It would be the same thing as pointing out to a potential john that the lady sitting across the bar was not a prostitute, but an undercover officer.

It doesn't matter that the lie detector is fake. Its a tool used to intimidate the suspect (or job applicant) and elicit truthful testimony. In the USA, police are allowed to lie or otherwise use trickery to obtain evidence or confessions. This is just one method of doing so.

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Re: Win on Appeal?

The offense was to encourage people to lie - nothing to do with the lie-detector itself. Besides, doesn't the story say that he pled guilty? Hard to appeal that.

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Re: Win on Appeal?

"The offense was to encourage people to lie"

Now, that's the bit I find most strange about this whole story. It appears to be legal to teach people to "defeat" a polygraph. He advertised his services. People came to him. They'd already decided to lie, almost certainly before they decided to seek out his services.

The only explanation I can think of is that he worded his advert poorly and crossed the line there.

If he did that in the UK, he'd probably get a slap on the wrist from the ASA and told not "to use that advert in that form again"

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Re: Win on Appeal?

No, he wouldn't. Whatever it says on the charge sheet, the actual crime was "making the Feds look stupid". No defence against that, as any counter-argument worstens the offence!

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Re: Win on Appeal?

I'm a hard right law and order advocate. I have no problems with police lying to catch bad guys. I even support waterboarding in the context of international terrorism.

I would categorically and without hesitation void any and all convictions and suspensions based on polygraph exams. It's no better than putting radium and a detector in a poison gas device and distributing them at random public intersections claiming they are mind readers and will kill those engaging in seditious thinking.

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Re: ...pled guilty? Hard to appeal that.

Good point, and I missed that on the first read through.

My initial interpretation was that he had previous convictions for fraud and this was a new trial at which he was convicted. On reading it again I see the correct interpretation.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Win on Appeal?

"doesn't the story say that he pled guilty?"

Well, if he'd pleaded inncocent, he would probably have got 30 years in chokey.

The plea-bargaining system forces people to plead guilty even if they aren't, for fear of receiving a much larger and disproportionate penalty.

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Luckily for everyone else...

Luckily for everyone else, the employee polygraph protection act prohibits all employers *except* federal agencies from giving polygraph tests. The government exemption was really meant so people could get polygraphed when getting secret clearance and so on, not to go around polygraphing every new hire as they are doing now. Given the current sense of paranoia in the US, and bad job climate, I know that even minimum wage fast food jobs would probably be giving every applicant lie detector tests if they were not prohibited, which would be quite dehumanizing for everyone involved.

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Re: Luckily for everyone else...

You're supposed to post your Employee Polygraph Protection Act poster (available free from your local library, agricultural extension office (oddly), courthouse, post office or IRS office, if you're looking for one :) in a "conspicuous place".

Most people put them next to their business licenses, EOO poster and minimum wage poster; somewhere between the janitors closet and the Rancor pit where nobody ever goes.

I bet every, or nearly every, business has one posted, somewhere, but nobody ever sees it and wouldn't know they are protected.

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Meh

Penn & Teller Bullshit episode on polygraphs, that is all.

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Devil

Voodoo vs Voodoo

The polygraph is just the same as a magicians trick, or a seance etc. Various props and acting are used to condition the subject to believe that lying will be detected, so that when they do lie, their stress levels will go up as a result of the tension build up. Conditioning your society to believe in them as well helps to start the whole process.

Then of course all the "Beat the lie detector" tricks work exactly the same way, the "Magic feather" effect.

Because you believe that doing this "trick" enables you to lie undetected, you don't get stressed when lying.

The actual trick itself doesn't matter at all, it just allows you to sidestep the conditioning.

Teaching more that one "trick" adds confidence as the subject can suppress their doubts in the efficacy of their feather by trying a different technique if the "Polygraph technician's" performance starts to overpower their belief in the "feather".

Unfortunate that the Federal agencies have taken the wrong stance with this, by imprisoning someone who says they can let you pass the test, they have verified the "feather" must work in the minds of future customers.

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Gav

Re: Voodoo vs Voodoo

Unfortunately it's even more messed up than that.

Thinking that the detector *might* detect a lie, even when they are telling 100% truth, may be enough to increase some people's stress levels and give a false positive.

Other people may find the whole process stressful, regardless of whether they are telling the truth or not, but on occasions manage to calm themselves at all the wrong questions.

Other people may still be worrying more about their last answer, than the current one.

Other people are pathological liars who can sail though any lie without a slightest flicker.

Other people can be totally delusional and think they are telling the truth, when it's entirely false.

The whole process is such complete bullshit and full of holes that it is worthless.

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Anonymous Coward

"prosecutors argued that Dixon should be jailed for at least 21 months as a deterrent to others and as punishment for “teaching others how to lie, cheat and steal"."

All right, so every politician is going to serve 21-months? The dinosaurs in there teach the newcomers how the game is played.

"Federal District Judge Liam O’Grady said: "There’s nothing unlawful about maybe 95 per cent of the business he [Dixon] conducted” but found criminal fault in his willingness to assist would-be applicants and others to lie to federal agencies, the Washington Post reported."

So it is a criminal act to lie to federal agencies? So when will the head of the NSA be serving his time. He has been caught a few times recently; he says the NSA doesn't do such and such and then it turns out they did. In fact, the NSA told its own employees on how to word things so the FISA court would not know the truth. Seems to me that the government does exactly what Dixon did.

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FAIL

21 months in prison?

I thought that prison was the place where you learn how to lie, cheat, and steal.

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Polygraphs are bullshit.

And that's it.

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Happy

Re: Polygraphs are bullshit.

I'm not sure you're telling the truth.

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