FARMINGTON — A handful of Utah law enforcement agencies are using high-definition infrared technology that detects lies by documenting minute changes in a subject’s pupil diameter.
At the Davis County Sheriff’s Office, the technology’s primary use is for screening applicants for deputy jobs, said Chief Deputy Susan Poulsen.
Todd Mickelsen, CEO of Lehi-based Converus Inc., said the county also may use it to check the truthfulness of sex offenders becoming eligible for probation and parole.
“You’re supposed to reveal all your victims, so when it comes time to get out early, you give the test,” Mickelsen said. “If you have revealed all your victims, you pass and get out early.”
Beyond pre-employment screening, Davis was interested in the product as a follow-up to internal lie detector tests that sometimes “people should not have passed,” Mickelsen said.
“The problem with polygraph is that it is given by a human being,” Mickelsen said. “Biases can come into play and they’re scored by a human.”
With Converus’s EyeDetect product, it’s largely automated.
In a typical test, a subject answers a series of questions with yes or no answers.
The infrared scan detects pupil diameter changes as small as one hundredth to one thousandth of a millimeter, Mickelsen said.
Those changes are imperceptible to an observer, but the software documents them.
Two University of Utah scientists began working on the technology in 2002. They’re now retired and on the Converus staff.
“What they found was that when you lie it takes more mental effort to communicate a lie,” Mickelsen said. “You’re trying to balance in your mind whether what you’re saying is believable.”
That shows up in the eye measurements, he said.
The Davis sheriff’s office was persuaded and began using EyeDetect last year. The Davis County Commission on Tuesday approved a one-year contract renewal for $8,550.
“The studies are showing it’s more reliable,” Poulsen said of the eye measurement method. “The polygraph works off of vital signs like increases in blood pressure and heart rate.”
The eye tests are cheaper and faster — at about $75 each, and 30 minutes or less, Mickelsen said.
A man was suspected for a time in his girlfriend’s apparently self-inflicted shooting death in Salt Lake County last year, according to a Unified Police probable cause statement. But the man never was charged after he passed a polygraph and got a 99 score on the eye-tracking exam, Mickelsen said.
The Utah County and Kane County sheriff’s offices and American Fork police are using EyeDetect, Mickelsen said.
The company has about 500 customers in 40 countries. Growth has been best in Latin America, where police agencies use the technology to catch drug cartel members trying to become embedded in law agencies, Mickelsen said.
In Idaho, police are using EyeDetect in conjunction with child sexual abuse stings. When a suspect arrives at a location expecting to meet a 13-year-old for sex, he sometimes tells police he had not done anything wrong, that he was there to warn the girl.
Asked if they’re willing to confirm that with an eye-track test, suspects often are asked if they’ve had sexual contact with a juvenile.
“They all fail and 80% of the time they confess about other victims,” Mickelsen said.
In another application, prisons and jails screen and spot-check corrections officers to make sure they’re following procedures.
Eye-track lie detecting is not without its detractors.
Some researchers and activists argue eye-tracking is no more reliable than lie detectors.
“Our biggest challenge is that the polygraph industry as a whole ... has done everything possible to discredit us,” Mickelsen said. “But we have more published scientific studies ... than any single polygraph method.”
The Utah scientists who created the eye-tracking methods were pioneers of the first computerized polygraph in the 1990s, he added.