Could better lie-detection technology help screen refugees?

Aylan-Kurdi-628x328-refugiados-europaThe refugee crisis caused by the ‘Islamic State’ has lead to floods of refugees fleeing to find a safe place to live. Yet ISIS has tried to cut off aid to refugees by claiming to have placed many ISIS members among the refugees, and by staging terror attacks to frighten off those who want to take the refugees in to their countries.

The difficult part is to find out which refugees are sincere frightened people without terrorist ties or criminal records including violent crime. And one thing I wondered was whether lie-detection technology could help screen refugees.

The results of a lie-detector test is not admissible in US courts. But it is reliable enough that police detectives routinely take a lie-detector test that indicates the suspect is truthful to mean that the suspect is very unlikely to be the guilty party and start looking for other suspects.

But the problem is that there is a limited number of skilled polygraph examiners. What I was wondering— though I have no knowledge of polygraph and lie-detection technology— was whether we can use computers to read a lie-detector examination and give out a reading of truthful, deceptive or inconclusive.

The test would probably have to be laid out in a rigorous way, using a set of yes-no questions. People would have to be trained in how to administer the basic examination. A skilled polygraph examiner would have to set up the programming, showing it which patterns indicate deception or truthfulness. Then the machine could score the examinations of many, many refugees or apparent refugees.

Since many of the refugees have lost personal records, and the records from their war-torn home towns are not available, this would be one method of screening that could help. It would not get every future terrorist or criminal— especially since some of these people might turn to terrorism or crime AFTER they have been taken in by some country as refugees. But certainly it would screen out some, and allow countries to take in more of those in such desperate need of refuge that they are willing to risk their lives and the lives of their children to leave their homeland.

Other useful measures have been suggested— like examining the social media accounts of those people who have such things. We need to use whatever methods we can to protect our nations while rescuing as many people as we can from ISIS horrors. And why not rescue some of the Christian refugees as well, since they are major targets and would not be welcome as ISIS members? Just a thought, folks, just a thought.

Poem of the Day

And now, something a little less grim than ISIS and drowned refugee babies: the best haiku in the history of ever.


Don’t look at my face.
No change, just large bills.
One wrong move will be your last.

by Paul Violi

This poem is taken from the book ‘Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years.’ Violi’s haiku, which is 5-5-7 syllables instead of the usual 5-7-5, is on page xxxiv of the Introduction.

There is no screening for Future Bad Acts

When certain things happen, some people thing rigorous screening (of other people) will save us. We should screen refugees, would-be immigrants, mental patients, people with a history of violent behavior— and if we do it right, we are all 100% safe from everything.

Except that kind of screening isn’t possible. We can screen people on their histories, and on their current associations and intentions. We can’t determine what they will do in the future because even they don’t know it yet.

People change. Think of the ardent young atheist who goes off to college and becomes a Christian. Think of the young psychologist who thinks he can change everyone through therapy who ages into someone who thinks ‘lock them up and throw away the key’ about most criminals.

Some bad changes even make sense. Imagine some person of faith— Christian, Hindu, Jewish or Muslim— who comes from a more innocent part of the world. He is thrown into an American big city where he learns he must support homosexual behavior and homosexual marriage to keep his job, and if he is in the medical profession must support abortions and dole out abortion-causing pills— or else. He sees blatant prostitution on every street corner and learns that the schools will teach his kindergarten child about homosexual relationships and his teenage child that not having sex before marriage is weird and a possible sign of mental problems. Isn’t all that enough to drive a guy insane, possibly in a messy, violent way?

The United States has a long history of imperfectly screening immigrants. Even before the US was a nation, the people that came to these shores were not carefully screened, in fact, some were send as a punishment for criminal acts. And the Indians and the Pilgrims didn’t screen one another particularly well, or they probably wouldn’t have tried to live in close proximity.

We survived. And we will continue to survive. Because it’s not really unscreened immigrants who might or might not have terrorist ties that are the big risk we face. We could save more American lives by getting 10% more people to use their seat belts than we could by banning all new immigrants. We could prevent more mass shootings by giving 10% more law-abiding citizens the opportunity to get concealed-carry firearm permits.

But what really does endanger us as a distinct and mostly-good nation is when we let fear or propaganda persuade us to give up American values and American personal freedom in favor of measures that not make us safer, merely more supervised and controlled.