Saturday, January 06, 2007

VOIP and Voice Stress Analysis

Voice over internet provider Skype opened Pandora’s box a few days ago when it began offering the Kish-Kish voice stress analysis software as an option to its regular services.

VSA is a software algorithm that detects minute frequency changes in the human voice that are typically associated with high levels of stress. VSA has been around for a long time in the intelligence and law enforcement community and for several years in the business community. Many police departments now have either fairly sophisticated software packages to run on a laptop or an actual dedicated device. Small handheld devices which unobtrusively run the software have been available for years.

The problem with VSA is that it doesn’t really detect lies. It detects stress that is commonly associated with lies. Those are two entirely different things. In my opinion at least, VSA cannot conclusively determine the truth or falsity of any given statement or series of statements. And again, in my opinion at least, what VSA can do is detect stress in the person being examined on a given subject and lead a skilled interrogator to correctly suspect deception on that subject. This is very useful information because it lets the interrogator know where to look next and where to focus both further questioning and investigation. Perhaps the most conclusive use of VSA would be where a person being examined makes a statement conclusively known to be false and then presents no associated stress level. The examiner would then know that they were dealing with a person whose inner psychological makeup does not recognize the difference between the truth and a lie.

Skype’s announcement let the genie out of the bottle at multiple levels. First, now everyone with a computer will know what practitioner’s of the black arts of truth detection have known for a long time … that is that VSA works just fine over telephone lines, from recordings made with small handheld recorders and even over raspy VOIP connections. Second, while VSA has been commonly used by the intelligence community, police departments, private detectives, insurance investigators and even some businesses for a long time, it has been either too expensive or too technically challenging for average people to fool with. Skype does away with all of that and make it a push button option on their popular VOIP service. And third, a lot of people who are not skilled interrogators are going to have access to information that they don't have the skills to interpret. And that in turn, can cause a lot of grief for all concerned.

The legality of using Skype’s new service remains to be tested. Skype’s equipment is located in Estonia and their business offices are in London. So, it remains to be seen what will happen when an Okie from Muskogee using VOIP accesses an algorithm on equipment located in Estonia to determine whether or not his business associate in Tulsa is telling the truth about what happened to last month’s cash receipts. I have no idea what the courts will do with that mess but it will sure be fun to watch.



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