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EU Court to examine secrecy of lie-detector “artificial intelligence” technology

The EU Court of Justice has dismissed a request by the European Commission to drop a freedom of information case regarding tests of lie-detector “artificial intelligence” technology. The EU’s “Research Executive Agency” (REA) is now required to answer the lawsuit for disclosure of information on the controversial iBorderCtrl project which was filed by Pirate Party MEP and civil liberties activist Patrick Breyer.

The EU research project iBorderCtrl, funded with 4.5 million €, is to close Europe’s borders off by using “artificial intelligence”: In the future, people willing to travel to Europe would be obliged to take a lie detector test at home in front of a webcam or their smartphone cam. Based on their facial expressions and behavior when answering standard questions, technology would evaluate whether they are telling the truth.

Whether such video lie detection technology works is highly controversial. This is probably the reason why an ethics advisor took a close look at the project. However, the EU refuses to give the public access to the ethics report, as well as to a legal assessment, to much of the project’s public relations strategy and to the project’s results, all financed from taxpayers money. Breyer’s request for these documents has been rejected by the EU research agency REA on the grounds that the ethics report and PR strategy are “commercial information” of the companies involved and of “commercial value”.

“The reasons given for the secrecy demonstrate: It is all about economical profit”, explains Breyer and adds: “Regarding this highly dangerous technology the transparency interests of the scientific community and the public must take precedence over private profit interests. Systems for detecting conspicuous behaviour gradually generate a uniform society of passive people who just don’t want to attract attention. Such a dead surveillance society is not worth living in.”

Breyer continues: “I am convinced that this pseudo-scientific security hocus-pocus will not detect any terrorists. For stressed, nervous or tired people, such a suspicion-generator can easily become a nightmare. In Germany lie detectors are not admissible as evidence in court precisely because they do not work. We need to put an end to the EU-funded development of technologies for monitoring and controlling law-abiding citizens ever more closely!”

In July a test of the system triggered four false positives out of 16 questions, equivalent to a staggering error rate of 25%. The US had dropped tests of a similar technology named “AVATAR” saying the technology was “not mature enough for further consideration”. Although the iBorderCtrl project testing phase concluded in August 2019, the “confidential” results are withheld from the public even today.

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