By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
For now, technology has leaped ahead. To be sure, there are instances where use of this device would be prohibited. The Employee Polygraph Protection Act, for instance, forbids the screening of applicants or the testing of employees by any "polygraph, deceptograph, voice stress analyzer . . . or any other similar device . . ." And certain questions, under fair housing laws and the Americans With Disabilities Act, you simply cannot ask. But what if Truster tells your future landlord you actually have smoked pot? Don't bother calling your attorney; she can't help you. Unless your landlord causes you public embar-
rassment with the information Truster revealed, your right to lie does not enjoy absolute protection. "There are certain things about someone's private life that aren't anybody's business," insists Schroeder, and on a moral or ethical level, she may be right. But legally, many details of one's personal life reside in the public domain.
Part of what protects Truster at the moment is that it is "designed to be used by a party to a conversation . . ." Because you are speaking with the person testing you and the conversation is not recorded, Truster does not fall under the restrictions of phone tapping or illegal surveillance. But USC professor of law Erwin Chemerinsky doesn't think this protection will last. He concedes that you are giving certain permissions in the context of a conversation, but he doesn't believe that does away with all your rights. "I don't think that you're consenting implicitly to somebody using a machine any more than you're consenting to being recorded." Chemerinsky projects that the continued intrusion that technology like Truster facilitates will eventually force legislators' hands. He echoes Schroeder's contention that certain parts of our lives are just private. Borrowing a phrase made famous in Judge Brandeis' dissent in the Olmstead case, Chemerinsky says, "in terms of the right to be let alone . . . this really is saying, 'we have the right to be let alone by machines, that machines shouldn't be evaluating us without our consent.'"
Legal matters aside, there is some doubt as to whether the Truster is all that good at evaluating anybody. The American Polygraph Association says that "there is no independent research . . . that voice stress analysis is an accurate means of detecting deception" -- precisely what the Supreme Court said in March 1998 when it denied a defendant's motion to admit polygraph results as evidence (United States vs. Scheffer). But Truster's makers claim that "controlled testing has found Truster's degree of credibility to be extremely high."
Faced with these divergent views, I decided to find out for myself. I installed Truster on my computer, hooked the adapter into my phone and left it running continually for a week. Whenever anyone called, I clicked "Start Test," gathered a few voice samples so the machine could calibrate to the caller and started my interrogation. I Trustered my mother, my brother-in-law and some guy selling long-distance service.
With its sound waves scrolling, stress graphs charting and the summary judgment flashing "Inaccuracy," "Truth," "False Statement," I have to admit Truster looked as if it were revealing something. What, exactly, I'm not sure. I found it difficult to ask questions, watch the screen for the system's responses and not sound like Perry Mason grilling a murder suspect on the witness stand. Eventually, the caller would get suspicious, or I would lose track of which response matched which question, and the whole thing would end up hopelessly muddled. Evidently, I'm not that good at lying myself; it was hard to resist letting my subjects in on my secret activity.
"Results produced by the system may be wrong if an unskilled operator performs the test," warns the Truster manual, and it's right. More to the point -- and what the user guide fails to warn against -- is that the operator has to have something he wants to know. "If you have doubts about a certain person," the manual instructs, "Truster can help you confirm your suspicions." I have doubts about everyone, but I don't really want my suspicions confirmed.
What the Truster told me about my friends, relatives and professional contacts was what I already knew: They're occasionally untruthful, exaggerate at times and are often unsure. And I've decided that's okay, because it gives me license to be the same way.