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Security measures lead to false sense of security - Scientists dispute use of national security tools

30 October 2009 Ghent University

Many of the security tools used by national governments lack scientific underpinning. This was posited by a team of thirteen international behavioural scientists, including Bruno Verschuere and Geert Crombez (Ghent University), in a recent publication in the Open Access Journal of Forensic Psychology. The team denounces the current situation regarding the use of tools and methods to protect national security.

In their article, they provide a range of examples of equipment, software and methods that are used at airports, by social services and investigative authorities (e.g., Screening Passengers by Observation Technique or SPOT), even though the effectiveness of these tools has not been shown. Moreover, many of these methods are unlikely to work, given that they, for example, attempt to detect deceit by measuring physiological stress signals. And this supposed relationship between stress and deception has been debated in science for years. In all, the use of these tools results in a false sense of security.

The evidence for many of these tools relies almost exclusively upon testimonials or non-disclosed research performed by the manufacturers themselves. This stands in sharp contrast with scientific principles of transparency and controllability. The scientists recommend important changes that will improve the (cost)effectiveness of security policy and should lead to evidence based security tools.

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