The Department of Homeland Security is taking a somewhat bizarre new approach to lie detection: analyzing body odor.
While a million dollar industry already exists to mask that noxious smell that permeates armpits, the DHS said it would conduct an “outsourced, proof-of-principle study to determine if human odor signatures can serve as an indicator of deception. … As a secondary goal, this study will examine … human odor samples for evidence to support the theory that an individual can be identified by that individual’s odor signature.”
In other words, to tell if you’re lying by sampling your BO.
Civil liberties groups have been “outraged” by the proposal, despite work only being at the preliminary stages. The condemnations have stated that the department’s ideas are misplaced, according to people like Barry Steinhardt, the director of the ACLUs technology and liberty project.
“The history of DHS’ deployment of these technologies has been one colossal failure after another,” said Steinhardt, “There is no lie detector. This research has been a long, meandering journey, which has taken us down one blind alley after another.”
Steinhardt’s protestations aside, the Royal Society, London, has found that there are “a substantial number of marker compounds (in human sweat) that can potentially differentiate individuals or groups,” and while it was found that there is “strong evidence for individual (odor) fingerprints,” they warned that it wasn’t consistent with some individuals. More importantly, there was some change in the chemicals released over time, whether this was due to “physiological, dietary or other changes.” The paper can be found here.
“The technology is still in its infancy,” says technology consultant and author John Vacca. “While some of these sensors perform well in the lab, the real world may be different.” As anyone who has ever been to a convention knows only far too well.