... Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, has been busying itself lately with the study of detecting (or trying to detect) lies through a newly-developed facial blushing, heat-seeking camera. Hold the Mayo, Please

It seems the esteemed Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, has been busying itself lately with the study of detecting (or trying to detect) lies through a newly-developed facial blushing, heat-seeking camera.

That sounds a little odd for folks better known for heart transplants and a no-nonsense diet, but makes more sense when one learns that they’re teaming up with Honeywell Laboratories, which enjoys finding high-tech ways to turn science into dollars. Remember, too, that researchers at Mayo recently released a groundbreaking study showing optimistic people live longer. It’s unclear who paid for that one, but we could be knocking years off our lives for writing this piece.

It should come as no surprise that one of the top five funding sources for Mayo research in 2000 was commercial enterprises. Those contributions are likely to increase post 9-11, with government and corporate interests scrambling to find new technologies to apply to the war on terror -- which brings us back to the blush machine.

According to Mayo researchers, the lie-detector camera is based on technology that records heat patterns formed by blood rushing to the face, specifically around the eyes, when someone is in the process of telling a lie. James Levine of the Mayo Clinic hypothesized to USA Today that "people who lie are afraid of getting caught. That fear triggers a primitive response to run away. Blood goes to the eyes so that the liar can more efficiently map out an escape route."

While initial results from a small sample of 20 people show a 75% success rate in detecting lies, successful results from larger studies might eventually pave the way towards installing the cameras in airports to aid in screening suspicious passengers before they board a plane. That is a scary thought.

While the camera accurately detected three-quarters of the test group who told lies, one might be concerned about the other 25% who slipped by. However, in what speaks volumes about the effectiveness of current law enforcement tools, the camera actually had a similar, if not slightly better, success rate than a standard polygraph test administered to the same group.

Neither machine has any place in our nation’s airports. Think of all those shrinking violets being pulled out of line to be questioned while having their picture taken with a funky contraption by a law enforcement officer or technician in white lab coat. That might cause a few false positives. Other travelers might be a bit flush at the moment from having sprinted through the airport after being delayed at the last security checkpoint. Even the most optimistic must admit that this lie-detector camera would wreak havoc on an already unsettled, and dwindling passenger base.

We support added security at airports, as well as the development of new, effective law enforcement tools to combat terrorism. Yet a balance must be struck between that which will truly be effective and that which is overly intrusive and may cause more harm than good. Does everyone remember that the object of the exercise is to protect freedoms, not to become a police state?

January 10, 2002
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