There is a forty billion dollar-per-year dishonest cost in the business community, and 20% of businesses are estimated to go out of business due to theft. Theft is a problem which is seen more and more than ever before. With the inventions of space-aged, modern technology, businesses are turning to it to fight the battle of theft. Lie Detector tests are the new defense against theft. A lie detector tests includes a polygraph, deceptograph, voice stress analyzer, psychological stress evaluator, or similar devices. Theses devices are used to render a diagnostic opinion pertaining to the honesty or dishonesty of an individual. The main reason many government, law enforcement, and private sector employers use lie detector tests are because they think the test will frighten away liars and cheats who are seeking jobs, or it will frighten confessions out of those accused of wrongdoing. Richard Nixon stated, “ lie detector tests are a tool of intimidation.” In this paper I will defend my thesis that lie detector tests, mainly polygraph tests, used in the screening of existing employees or new hires is immoral. The tests are discriminative, an invasion of privacy, and coercive.
One reason for accepting my thesis is that the polygraph test discriminates against false positive people because of the unreliability of the test and the person administering it. Polygraph tests continuously, visually, permanently, and simultaneously records changes in cardiovascular, respiratory, and electrodermal patterns as minimum instrumentation standards, which is used to render diagnostic opinion as to the honesty or dishonesty of an individual. The problem of nervousness, anger, sadness, embarrassment, and fear can all be causal factors in altering one’s heart rate, blood pressure or respiration rate. Having to go to the bathroom can also be causative. Also, there are a number of medical conditions such as colds, headaches, constipation, or neurological and muscular problems, which can cause the physiological changes, measured by the polygraph. Any of those conditions can be present at the time of the administration of the test, and can throw off the results, giving a false conclusion.
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Not only can the test be unreliable, but also the person administering it can be. David Lykken, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Minnesota and a major critic of the validity of polygraph testing, counters that the average training program for a professional polygraph examiner last six to eight weeks. The training program is about one-sixth the study time required by the average barber college. He is indicating the average barber, whose job is only significant to style, studies longer than a polygraphist, who decides whether one is honest or dishonest. The inadequate training could possibly ruin a person’s life. Not only does it seem the examiner is not trained extensively enough, but also, he can be very presumptuous. As Dr Lykken stated, “ he thinks of himself as a surgeon of the soul. There is a lesion in the examinee, and he thinks he has to lance it to kill it.” For example, Elizabeth M. who went to a final screening to be an FBI agent indicated the examiner persisted in acting incredulous, even though she was telling the truth, he was acting like she was a liar before she even entered the room, and he was acting very god like. He stated, “If you tell me the truth it will set you free.” She indicated she was very upset that the examiner did not believe her. She got pissed off, sick and very nervous. Due to her reactions, because of the examiner, Elizabeth failed the polygraph, and was not hired by the FBI. Later, an investigation was completed, which concluded the polygraph and examiner caused the failing result, not Elizabeth.
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Adding to the discrepancies, which cause the polygraph to be unreliable, the polygraph can be beaten, which indicates the test is unreliable. The examinee can be a sociopath, a psychopath, or simply a good liar. A sociopath and psychopath lack a sense of moral responsibility and social conscience, so they can therefore lie and not trigger a reaction, which would otherwise cause a polygraphist to be suspicious, thus beating the test. A good liar can have control over his emotions and beat the polygraph with little ease. In fact, some researches even argue an examinee can use simple countermeasures, such as biting his tongue or stepping on a nail concealed in his shoe to fake a strong reaction to the control questions, thus beating the test. Not only does that indicate one can beat the polygraph, but Doug Williams, a police polygraphist, proved on 60 minutes, Nightwatch, Dateline, CNN, and Nightly News that the polygraph can be beaten, and is a “sick joke.” Doug hired three polygraphists to test examinees on false crimes, and all three polygraphists called innocent, truthful people liars, proving the polygraph is unreliable. Then, Doug had more examinees tested, which were taught his “Sting” technique. Doug had the polygraphists ask general questions, and the examinees were instructed to lie on every question. The polygraphists concluded those examinees were the most truthful people they have ever tested. The experiment indicates the polygraph is not reliable, and is a sick joke. If one cannot rely on something, one should not use it. Therefore, the polygraph is immoral.
The polygraph can indicate one is lying when one is telling the truth, and it would lead to one being falsely accused of lying. Also, one can lie and pass the test, yet he was the one who was rightly accused of lying. The company keeps the liar, and fires the honest person. If society is going be judged for honesty, by technology, it should be with out a doubt accurate in all aspects. The polygraph is not without a doubt accurate. Therefore, it is morally wrong to use it in the screening of new hires or existing employees.
Another reason for accepting my thesis is the tests are an invasion of privacy. Senator Sam J. Ervin, Jr., states, “There is no necessity for these infringements of freedom and invasion of privacy; but even if there were, I believe that every citizen should answer like William Pitt: Necessity is the pleas for every infringement of human liberty. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.” The polygraphists ask questions pertaining to religion, sexual practices, sexual preferences, political opinions, union, and racial matters. Polygraphists even ask existing employees questions like, “are you relatively satisfied with this job now, do you intend to stay with this employer, and when you are working do you wish you were someplace else?” Those questions are not relevant to the performance or practices of the organization and employee, and so it is an invasion of privacy.
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The polygraph is an intrusion into seclusion, which is an invasion of privacy. The polygraphist is excavating private information, in which the examinee might not want to share. Asking questions of the private matter is no better than if a company are to put cameras in bathrooms to make sure no illegal activities are taking place, or reading employee’s personal email to get information about them. All are private matters in which an individual has a right to keep private, and as one infringes on these rights it becomes immoral.
Businesses use polygraph test randomly. It selects anyone at random to test the degree of honesty of the individual. It is an invasion of privacy. One should have reasonable suspicions to even consider making someone take a polygraph. It is similar to cops randomly selecting houses to search, just to see what they turn up. The essences of the action are morally wrong. One has a right to privacy, and companies cannot infringe upon these, just to see what they turn up.
The last reason for accepting my thesis is the tests are coercive. First, it is very hard for a job applicant to say no when a prospective employer asks him or her to take a polygraph test. The same holds true for existing employees. If an employee refuses to take the test when asked, there are adverse consequences, such as getting fired or demoted. Second, many business admit that they use the tests to coerce employees to admit the truth. B.J. Habibie of the Bank of Bali states, “ Our lie detector tests are used to pressure an employee to confess.” Last, the person admitting the test can be coercive. He may tell lies, harass, or scare the examinee to tell the truth. All of those reasons are coercive. Coercion is a frequently analyzed form of controlling influence. It eliminates freedom, and entirely compromises free choice. People under coercion may be forced into making a decision that they might not otherwise make. The polygraph is a form a coercion, new hires and existing employee’s do not have a choice in whether to take it or not. It limits their freedom of choice, therefore, it is morally wrong to use as a screening method.
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At this point a critic might state lie detector tests are a necessary evil. If a company wants to prevent theft it must use tools that will help, and lie detector tests will help prevent theft. I believe lie detector tests are not a necessary evil, and are not the way to prevent theft. As stated by the Drill Sergeant in, Full Metal Jacket, “ If it were not for people like you leaving your footlockers unlocked, we would not have any thievery in this world.” I believe it is valid. If all businesses were to keep an eye on their employees and not give them opportunities to steal, there would not be any theft, and therefore it would not be a problem. Another point a critic might make is it will help catch potential criminals. I believe the test is not catching potential criminals, but catching innocent people. Any good thief will know how to beat the test, and any innocent person will be so nervous they will fail the test. A critic might state, “Well the tests have been proven to be 95% accurate.” I found an article in which a total of four hundred and twenty one psychologists with expertise in psychophysiology, and statistics responded to a survey on polygraph tests. The survey results found psychologist and psychophysiologist doubted the accuracy of the claims which have been made by the polygraph community. In other words the tests are not as accurate as one might think. The last response a critic might state is only guilty people have something to hide. I believe that is ridiculous. Dr. Dennis Roger states, “People have a right to privacy, and do not need to share it if they feel it is invading their privacy.” All in all one has a choice in what information they may want to share, and if they do not, it certainly does not mean they are guilty.
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In conclusion, lie detector tests are unreliable, coercive and invade privacy. We use lie detector tests to help determine if an individual is being honest or not. The irony is we do not know how reliable or truthful lie detector tests are. For all the reason stated in my paper leads me to believe the lie detector tests are immoral. Companies are relying on the technology to weed out dishonest people, but all it is doing is weeding out nervous people. Also, the good thief who will pass the lie detector tests is the one who will do the most damaged. The ones who trigger some suspicion or fail the test are nervous and will do less harm than the one who lies and passes. The tests are immoral and should not be used.
1.APA news release; June 10 1997; Lie Detector tests are not Valid; Pam Willenz.
2.WWW.DOL.GOV, Fact sheet #36, Polygraph Protection Act of 1988
3.Small Business Report; New York; Dec 1983; A controversial Attempt to Prove Honesty
4.Work Force; Costa Mesa; June 1999 Bob Rosner; How do you feel about the use of lie detectors at work
5.News Observer; September 1996; Dennis Rogers; An honest regard for privacy
6.Accountancy; London; September 1998; Time Mcquire; Liars, damned Liars and interviewees
7.New England Journal of Medicines; July 1992; Robert Steinbrook; A Flawed diagnostic Method
8.Insight on the News; August 1998; v14 n28 p44; Eli Lehrer; Lies, damned lies and polygraph tests
9.Supervision; Burlington; August 1999; Robert D. Ramsey; Employer interest vs. employee privacy
10.The Atlantic; October 1984; v254 p40; Stephen Budiansky; Lie Detectors and Technology
11.Ethical Theory and Business; Fifth Edition; Beauchamp and Bowies; p473-479
12.Dr. Lykken’s Book; Chapter 15 of A Tremor in The Blood: Uses and Abuses of the Lie Detector