Lie-detection system trialled at EU's busy borders criticised by experts

07 November 2018 5 min. read

The European Union has been accused of promoting pseudoscience by experts after announcing plans for a “smart lie-detection system” at its busiest borders in an attempt to identify illegal migrants. The system, which features animated interviews aimed at learning the intents of migrants at the EU’s busiest borders, was developed by a selection of professional services firms in partnership with a number of universities and government entities across Europe.

A so-called “lie detector” is to be trialled in Hungary, Greece and Latvia, as the countries and the EU as a whole look to cut the number of migrants entering through their borders. The EU has become increasingly divided on the matter of immigration in recent years, with far-right parties coming to prominence in a host of national elections across the continent.

The new IBORDERCTRL system, which has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, was developed by a number of partners from across the private and public spheres. Among these entities are the likes of Manchester Metropolitan University, the National Technical University of Athens, the State Border Guard of Latvia, the Hungarian National Police, and a host of professional services firms. Cross-continental IT consultancy European Dynamics – which has offices in Athens, Berlin, Basel, Brussels, Copenhagen, London, Luxembourg, Nicosia and Stockholm among other locations – aerospace and defence firm Everis, Polish IT services company ITTI, and JAS Technologies and Trainose were all participants in the process.

Lie-detection system trialled at EU’s busy borders criticised by experts

Paranoia pertaining to a series of terror attacks across the EU has largely manifested itself in a fear of incoming migrants, especially amid the on-going refugee crisis which has seen hundreds of thousands of people flee war-torn nations including Syria, seeking refuge from Daesh, as well as their own governments. With rumours continuing to circulate that terrorists have used this as an opportunity to infiltrate Europe, the European security market is booming. Predicted to be worth €128 billion by 2020, it's this market which the partner organisations of IBORDERCTRL are in line to benefit from

Remarking on the potential of IBORDERCTRL to generate revenues for participating businesses, project leader George Boultadakis of European Dynamics in Luxembourg, commented; “The global maritime and border security market is growing fast in light of the alarming terror threats and increasing terror attacks taking place on European Union soil, and the migration crisis.”

Boultadakis added; “We’re employing existing and proven technologies – as well as novel ones – to empower border agents to increase the accuracy and efficiency of border checks. IBORDERCTRL’s system will collect data that will move beyond biometrics and on to biomarkers of deceit.”

“Pseudoscientific border control”

The project, which has been informally labelled a lie-detector initiative, involves the use of a computer animation of a border guard, personalised to the traveller’s gender, ethnicity and language, asking questions via a webcam. The system will then analyse the micro-expressions of those seeking to enter EU territory, with the aim of seeing if they are being truthful about their personal background and intentions. Those arriving at the border will also be required to have uploaded pictures of their passport, visa and proof of funds.

While the scheme is now set to be trialled in Hungary, Greece and Latvia, not everyone however shares in the enthusiasm that it's a step forward. The project has been heavily criticised by experts, including Bruno Verschuere, a Senior Lecturer in Forensic Psychology at the University of Amsterdam.

Speaking to Dutch newspaper De Volskrant, Verschuere stated that he believed the system would deliver unfair outcomes, explaining, “Non-verbal signals, such as micro-expressions, really do not say anything about whether someone is lying or not… This is the embodiment of everything that can go wrong with lie detection. There is no scientific foundation for the methods that are going to be used now… Once these systems are put into use, they will not go away. The public will only hear the success stories and not the stories about those who have been wrongly stopped.”

Speaking to the UK’s Guardian newspaper, meanwhile, Bennett Kleinberg, an Assistant Professor in Data Science at University College London, pulled no punches in his assessment. Kleinberg said, “This can lead to the implementation of a pseudoscientific border control.”

The news of the trialling of IBORDERCTRL comes as the latest chapter in an on-going shift towards AI and digitalised immigration processes. In October, engineers at the University of Arizona told the media that they had developed a similar system which they hoped to install on the US-Mexico border. It is known as the Automated Virtual Agent for Truth Assessments in Real-Time, or Avatar. Elsewhere, Accenture joined a team of firms working to help the Canadian Government with a new border security app, while in the UK, the Government is also understood to be working with a host of consultancies to build a new web-portal for EU migrants looking to confirm their settled status after Brexit