In an unbelievable Big Brother move, Cornwall Council has wasted £50,000 on a contract with private company Capita to provide ‘voice risk analysis’ systems which it claims will catch benefit cheats.
There is little reliable evidence that the technology supplied to the council works, let alone that the results are in any way reliable. Capita claims to system conducts voice analysis of telephone interviews, and the council plans to use the technology to detect bogus claimants of the council tax single person discount.
In protest, Counsellor Fiona Ferguson resigned after being in her position as portfolio holder for corporate resources for the council for two months.
Both academics and the government have ruled out the use of the technology because results are unreliable. In 2008, the government tailed the system and expressed that the system is no more reliable than flipping a coin. In research by academics, the system was described as being no better than astrology at detecting fraud.
The conclusion of the Department of Work and Pensions reads:
“DWP conducted the research to investigate whether VRA worked when applied to the benefit system. From our findings we cannot conclude that VRA works effectively and consistently in the benefits environment. The evidence is not compelling enough to recommend the use of VRA within DWP”
Even so, several councils have used the system, including a council in Derbyshire and Southwark Council, wasting tax payer’s money.
‘Lie detector’ technology has always been considered unreliable and is not admissible as evidence in UK courts.
If lie detector (including voice analysis system) results are not permitted in UK courts where professionals consider them unreliable, then in the hands of amateur councils the results could cause undue stress and people telling the truth unjustly penalised.
It is a frightening thought that those with virtually no knowledge of this kind of technology can be ‘sold’ a white elephant that could have serious ramifications and affect real people’s lives – let along the waste of money.
Maybe they would buy a cardboard box without knowing what was inside – could be a nice little earner for someone.
Capita certainly know where they can make money, with government contracts ranging from the collection of TV licence fees to educations services and a lot more.