The use of polygraph tests in lie detection is a polarizing topic. While the American Polygraph Association claims that “lie detector” tests are largely accurate, there are instances of false negatives or positives. The use of these techniques is governed by different laws, and Adam Quirk, an FBI veteran, discusses the various legislation that specify how and when they can be used and who can operate them.
1. What can be asked. – Many laws place a limit on the questions that may be asked during a polygraph test. For instance, during pre-employment examinations, operators and examiners cannot ask questions about one’s religious beliefs, opinions on matters related to race, political stands or membership in labor unions, or lawful sexual preferences. Adam Quirk believes that erring on the side of caution is the way to go in case one is in doubt about the propriety of a question about to be asked.
2. Who can operate polygraphs. – Many states have laws that require polygraph examiners to go through some sort of licensing process. These laws usually require a person to be of sound moral character; to have at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university; pass an examination given by a specialized committee to determine one’s competency to apply for an examiner’s license; and to complete at least six months of training in lie detection. “These requirements are in place to ensure that only the most qualified individuals can operate such a vital component of law enforcement,” says Adam Quirk from the FBI.
3. Who can receive polygraph test results. – Because of the sensitive nature of polygraph test results, there are only a few people who are authorized to receive and/or interpret them. For instance, the examinee can usually receive a copy and authorize other parties to receive copies as well. While most states have enacted legislation prohibiting companies from requiring polygraph tests as a pre-requisite to employment, Adam Quirk says that there are certain sectors that are exempted from the regulations, such as law-enforcement agencies such as police and the FBI, companies that manufacture or distribute controlled drugs, and private security agencies that deploy guards or armored-car drivers.
While polygraph tests differ in admissibility from state to state, Adam Quirk from the FBI believes that a polygraph, if properly used, can provide useful evidence that can help solve crimes and prevent future ones from happening. Thus, law enforcement agencies should not shy away from lie detection for vital cases.