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Polygraph tests…Kenya’s next graft buster?

In a Saturday morning tweet, the Makueni Senator also wondered whether government agencies tasked with the mandate of fighting graft had in fact acquired lie detectors to carry out President Kenyatta’s order within 30 days/FILE

NAIROBI, Kenya, June 2 – A day after President Uhuru Kenyatta announced fresh vetting for procurement heads of government entities, complete with polygraph tests, questions abound on how the move will be implemented.

Senate Minority Whip Mutula Kilonzo Junior is among those who have cast doubts on the introduction of polygraph tests saying a law must be enacted to anchor lie detector tests in anti-graft statutes.

In a Saturday morning tweet, the Makueni Senator also wondered whether government agencies tasked with the mandate of fighting graft had in fact acquired lie detectors to carry out President Kenyatta’s order within 30 days.

While announcing the fresh vetting exercise at Madaraka Day celebrations in Meru on Friday, President Kenyatta ordered that the exercise is concluded before the start of the 2018/2019 Financial Year.

“All heads of procurement and accounts in government ministries, departments, agencies, and parastatals will undergo fresh vetting, including polygraph testing, to determine their integrity and suitability,” President Kenyatta said.

Lie detectors rely on several physiological indices including the subject’s pulse, blood pressure, respiration and shin conductibility during interrogations.

The physiological indices are usually captured graphically thorough sensors attached to the body of the person being interrogated.

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Under the technology, lies are usually detected through heightened nervousness. The person being interrogated is presumed to be telling the truth if they remain calm in the course of an examination.

The use of lie detectors is popular in the United States where federal law enforcement agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigations, National Security Agency, and the Central Intelligence Agency use polygraphs to detect lies.

The accuracy of lie detectors, however, remains a hotly contested issue among scientists with those objecting to its use arguing that polygraphs do not measure lies but rather arousal which could be as a result of many other factors.

For instance, opponents have suggested anxiety disorders such as posttraumatic stress disorder, nervousness, fear, hypoglycemia, confusion, depression, psychosis, and substance induces states such as stimulants could stir anxiety and hence lead to an interpretation that a person taking a polygraph is telling a lie.

The effectiveness of polygraphs has also been argued in court with the US Supreme Court in 1998 making a majority ruling that lie detectors could be “no more accurate than a coin flip.”

In a case between the State and Scheffer, the court held at the time that “there is simply no consensus that polygraph evidence is reliable.”

“Although the Control Question Test (CQT) may be useful as an investigative aid and tool to induce confessions, it does not pass muster as a scientifically credible test,” the majority noted in the ruling.

“CQT theory is based on naive, implausible assumptions indicating (a) that it is biased against innocent individuals and (b) that it can be beaten simply by artificially augmenting responses to control questions,” the jury pointed out.

The court also held that polygraphs were prone to abuse with lawyers keen to have friendly polygraph tests admitted as evidence in court to counter witness accounts.

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