Voice Stress Analysis - Junk Science used by Government to frighten and intimidate benefit claimants
Harrow Council Communications Management Strategy 2003 - 2006 - Successful communications are at the heart of any successful enterprise...... Harrow Council tries to be open and honest in its dealings.
Independent observers therefore might find it difficult to reconcile this worthy objective with the details of the London Borough of Harrow - The introduction of Voice Risk Analysis to Housing Benfits and Council Tax assessments - which is a nominee for the e-Government National Awards 2007.
Public technology.net provides an effusive and excited review of this exciting initiative ;
"Harrow's Housing Benefit Service is already a national benchmark of excellence, with a four star CPA rating and fastest assessment times in the country. The recent implementation of Voice Risk Assessment (VRA) has further improved performance, secured a DWP easement on checking claimants' details, and saved money. VRA does not deter benefits claimants - Harrow's caseload is the highest it has ever been but helps to drive out fraud or error and to target resources faster. The use of this technology in the public sector is a national 'first' for Harrow. Following its success both Lambeth and Birmingham councils have adopted the package."Apparently Mike Carney (Head of Assessments) consulted with Capita in January 2007 and decided to use VRA within its contact centre , " to innovate the review process "(?) Capita are the Council's strategic partner. Harrow worked with them to apply their general VRA technology to a Local Government assessments environment. They have provided technical expertise and supported Harrow's project manager in implementing the system.
As a national 'first' implementing VRA required courage (?). But the DWP's confidence in the project was such that it funded the pilot. By February operators were being trained and the scripts developed by the Council.
1.VRA went live on May 21 for Housing and Council Tax Benefits interventions.
2. The system was extended in June for review of single person discounts
3. It was further extended in August for new claims for Housing and Council Tax Benefits.
4. We have worked with Job Centre Plus who plan to pilot VRA from September.
5.Plans are also in place to extend the service to cover a range of other assessment based Council services, such as Blue Badges and Freedom Passes."
6. We are on track to achieve the Government's PI (?) within 2007.
John Hutton, who was then the Secretary for Work and Pensions (eGov monitor 10 April 2007) said , "Harrow Council is already recognised as providing one of the best Housing Benefit services in the UK and I welcome its willingness to pilot this innovative technique to make further improvements." What he failed to mention was that no surrogate marker of deception has yet proved reliable enough to be admitted as evidence in a court of law in the UK.
Benefits ? - well they claim ..." So far we have reviewed 588 cases and fast-tracked processing for 402 of them. Of these 135 declared a change, and 73 are being followed up further. This has resulted in a saving in this area alone of £98,192, and £140,000 in total. The one year trial costs only £63,000 and has saved £140,000 in the first four months. "
Recent figures from the DWP are said to show that Benefit fraud in the UK is estimated to run to a total of £800m in 2006/7, and that there were more than 52,000 prosecutions in 2005/6. The Fraud Act 2001 gave fraud investigators more powers to catch and punish offenders, including greater powers to check records with other organisations.
Curiously in the Guradian December 2nd they say ... "In the first three months Harrow council saved £300,000, suggesting levels of benefit fraud may be higher than government estimates." ...the Monbiot Calculus at work again, think of a number ...er.. then make it bigger. In the Economist on May 8th 2008 they report ..."This week the council said that in the ten months from May 2007, when the system was installed, it had saved £420,000 ($828,000).
A press report in the Birmingham Post May 8th 2008 , "Phone lie detector led to 160 Birmingham benefit cheat investigations" , reports that of 2,656 calls subject to checking, 6%, around 160, were classified as "high risk", leading to further inquiries. It refrains from saying how many of those investigated then proved to be cheating the system or lying. See also BBC video report posted at the same time...."Fifteen councils across Britain are to be offered lie detectors to help catch out benefit cheats who cost taxpayers up to £400m a year. "
As recently as November 20th the BBC reported that the technology will be used for the first time on telephone calls of unemployment benefit claimants in Lincoln and Nottingham.
Harrow, partnered with Capita, are one of the 68 Finalists and are included in Section 9) Local e-Government excellence: Team - they will hear their fate at an exclusive black-tie e-Government National Awards dinner which takes place 6.45pm - 11.15pm on 20th January 2009 at the prestigious Guildhall in the City of London.(details)
What exactly is Harrow's / Capita's magical Voice Risk Assessment (VRA) system
Here we have to thank the Yorkshire Ranter - Dr. Benway strikes again, with Venture Capital who with sound knowledge and experience and with a wry literary touch provides a detailed and lethal de-bunking and also The Ministry of Truth for the Government Bullshit Risk Detector .
Voice stress analysis (VSA), is not new and , works it is claimed, by detecting involuntary psychophysiological modulations in a subsonic and inaudible component of the voice called the ‘Lippold Tremor’ at a frequency of between 8Hz and 12Hz. As far as can be ascertained the original research was undertaken on live voice recording and computer analysis - not on digitally transmitted voice data over telephone networks.
Within the world of Detection Of Deception (DOD) this issue is hotly debated with polygraphists (Lie Detectors) and few independent research studies have been undertaken. A study by VThe State of Virginia in 2003, (35 page pdf) at which time the technique was in widespread use, concluded that
The technique used by Harrow is a proprietary, patented (only in Canada it appears - registrant is Amir Liberman, an Israeli - 16th Dec. 1998) system utilising a subset of VSA called Layered Voise Analysis which is peddled by a company called Nemesysco Ltd. a privately held security-oriented company founded in 2000, and headquartered in Netanya, Israel and sold through Digilog UK.
"Because there have been no independent scientific studies conducted on the reliability of the computer voice analyzer to detect deception, the Board recommends to the Director of the Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation that computer voice analyzer equipment should not be approved in Virginia at this time."
The suppliers do not claim that their devices detect lies; rather, they claim that VSA detects microtremors, which are caused by the stress of trying to conceal or deceive. hence it's usefulness in their personal use product ... the PC based Love Detector - The Love Detector technology is capable of detecting love-like feelings and other emotions via the telephone or a microphone.
There is little experimental or independent evidence of the utility of this technique but the Natonal Institute of Justice - a section of the US Department of Justice published a report by Kelly R. Damphousse, Ph.D. in their Journal dated March 17, 2008 - entitled , "Voice Stress Analysis: Only 15 Percent of Lies About Drug Use Detected in Field Test" in which they address the question ...Can VSA Accurately Detect Deception? and they conclude ;
Our findings suggest that these VSA software programs were no better in
determining deception about recent drug use among arrestees than flipping a
The Yorkshire Ranter however points to a fatal weakness in that the original work on VSA relies upon
... a change in a signal in your voice between 8 and 12Hz, but even the highest-quality voice codecs used for public telephony filter out everything below 50Hz, so a VSA system based on - well - science couldn't possibly work.All this is of course to some extent an academic and amusing diversion - but it isn't.
In the Queen's Speech debate the Guradian reports ;
The government also highlighted a pilot covering 25 local councils administering housing benefit to 500,000 claimants, saying "voice risk analysis technology" will be used to test whether a claimant is providing false information. The government first introduced the technology in Harrow in north London last year, but now says it plans to make the technology available nationwide.The Government have of course anticipated resistance to the system and response is outlined here by Department for Work & Pensions Anti-Fraud Minister, James Plaskitt yesterday during their media blitz on May 8th 2008.
His ad hominem is remarkable (or not in the circumstances) in that it justifies the use of such systems by their results, not by any attempt to validate the techniques.
This is because, by simply telling the caller such a system is in use acts as a deterrant to continue with the application. This may be because they are attempting to commit fraud, but it may not be.
The use of this technology is merely to cow and frighten, the guilty and the inoccent will fall foul of this technique unsupported by any rigorous scientific studies. Furthermore no surrogate marker of deception has yet proved reliable enough to be admitted as evidence in a court of law in the UK.
So the state is using a technique which is fraudulent to possibly identify the fraudsters.... but... but ... Harrow Council tries to be open and honest in its dealings.
Recent figures from the DWP are said to show that Benefit fraud in the UK is estimated to run to a total of £800m in 2006/7 - equivalent to the loss to the HMRC of 2 months carousel fraud.