A polygraph machine. Photo: Dima Korotayev/Epsilon/Getty Images
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Suzanne Moore: I felt confident about taking a lie detector test. Then I remembered my Robin Hood past

“I just want to explain about the ham,” I said.

When I tell people that I have taken a lie detector test, they always seem to assume I’ve been involved in some major fraud. Or been on Jeremy Kyle. I am not a great liar but I’d always thought that . . . you know, I could front stuff out. Yet, when I found myself on the 35th floor of a Manhattan office block and was shown into a very small waiting room, I began to wonder about my ability to tell the truth.

All of this was happening because I’d applied for a job in a record shop. It sent me for a lie detector test, which it said was standard. Everyone knows that such tests are rubbish. I mean, what’s the science behind them? As I wasn’t a criminal mastermind, it would be no bother but waiting in an airless room made me anxious.

A very large man came out and called me in and said we would talk through “the procedure”.

“No need,” I said breezily. “I have seen it in films.”

“No. It’s important you understand what is about to happen.”

He explained where I would sit, how I would be wired up, how sensors would pick up my heartbeat. “And pulses and perspiration.”

Suddenly I felt very hot. Also, faint.

Then he read out the list of questions he was going to ask me. And I realised I was not prepared for this at all.

“Have you ever stolen anything from a workplace – by ‘anything’, it could be a pen, a drawing pin – or made a phone call for free?”

Jesus. Of course I had.

What about the Saturday job I had at a supermarket, in which I passed stuff through the till for some customers without ringing it up, as I felt that old people should not really have to pay? My personal redistribution of wealth started at 14. When they put me on the deli counter, I decided that anyone who looked a bit poor should get free ham. It never entered my head that this was actual stealing.

Should I say something now, or when I was wired up?

“I will also be asking you several questions about substance abuse. When I say ‘substance’, I am, of course, including alcohol.”

Anticipating your own lies makes you sweat.

He took me to the chair and put stuff around my head, my heart, my fingers.

“I gave out ham. I was really young,” I blurted out.

“Please stay silent and simply answer the questions.”

“It wasn’t ordinary stealing. It was for other people.”

“I have asked you to be quiet.”

“I just want to explain about the ham.”

“Do you understand anything about what is happening now?”

He was very annoyed.

“Yes, that’s why I am trying to be honest. It’s not like I have done an armed robbery.”

At this, the needles on the polygraph went berserk. 

Suzanne Moore is a writer for the Guardian and the New Statesman. She writes the weekly “Telling Tales” column in the NS.

This article first appeared in the 06 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, An empire that speaks English

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The problems with ending encryption to fight terrorism

Forcing tech firms to create a "backdoor" to access messages would be a gift to cyber-hackers.

The UK has endured its worst terrorist atrocity since 7 July 2005 and the threat level has been raised to "critical" for the first time in a decade. Though election campaigning has been suspended, the debate over potential new powers has already begun.

Today's Sun reports that the Conservatives will seek to force technology companies to hand over encrypted messages to the police and security services. The new Technical Capability Notices were proposed by Amber Rudd following the Westminster terrorist attack and a month-long consultation closed last week. A Tory minister told the Sun: "We will do this as soon as we can after the election, as long as we get back in. The level of threat clearly proves there is no more time to waste now. The social media companies have been laughing in our faces for too long."

Put that way, the plan sounds reasonable (orders would be approved by the home secretary and a senior judge). But there are irrefutable problems. Encryption means tech firms such as WhatsApp and Apple can't simply "hand over" suspect messages - they can't access them at all. The technology is designed precisely so that conversations are genuinely private (unless a suspect's device is obtained or hacked into). Were companies to create an encryption "backdoor", as the government proposes, they would also create new opportunities for criminals and cyberhackers (as in the case of the recent NHS attack).

Ian Levy, the technical director of the National Cyber Security, told the New Statesman's Will Dunn earlier this year: "Nobody in this organisation or our parent organisation will ever ask for a 'back door' in a large-scale encryption system, because it's dumb."

But there is a more profound problem: once created, a technology cannot be uninvented. Should large tech firms end encryption, terrorists will merely turn to other, lesser-known platforms. The only means of barring UK citizens from using the service would be a Chinese-style "great firewall", cutting Britain off from the rest of the internet. In 2015, before entering the cabinet, Brexit Secretary David Davis warned of ending encryption: "Such a move would have had devastating consequences for all financial transactions and online commerce, not to mention the security of all personal data. Its consequences for the City do not bear thinking about."

Labour's manifesto pledged to "provide our security agencies with the resources and the powers they need to protect our country and keep us all safe." But added: "We will also ensure that such powers do not weaken our individual rights or civil liberties". The Liberal Democrats have vowed to "oppose Conservative attempts to undermine encryption."

But with a large Conservative majority inevitable, according to polls, ministers will be confident of winning parliamentary support for the plan. Only a rebellion led by Davis-esque liberals is likely to stop them.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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