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    India: Brain Scan Can Be Evidence of Guilt

    The New York Times reports on a case in India concerning brain scan technology believed to identify when an individual is lying. “The Brain Electrical Oscillations Signature test, or BEOS, was developed by Champadi Raman Mukundan, a neuroscientist who formerly ran the clinical psychology department of the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences in Bangalore.” The brain scan evidence was used to convict a woman accused of murdering her fiance.

    Now, well before any consensus on the technology’s readiness, India has become the first country to convict someone of a crime relying on evidence from this controversial machine: a brain scanner that produces images of the human mind in action and is said to reveal signs that a suspect remembers details of the crime in question. […]

    The technologies, generally regarded as promising but unproved, have yet to be widely accepted as evidence — except in India, where in recent years judges have begun to admit brain scans. But it was only in June, in a murder case in Pune, in Maharashtra State, that a judge explicitly cited a scan as proof that the suspect’s brain held “experiential knowledge” about the crime that only the killer could possess, sentencing her to life in prison. […]

    This latest Indian attempt at getting past criminals’ defenses begins with an electroencephalogram, or EEG, in which electrodes are placed on the head to measure electrical waves. The suspect sits in silence, eyes shut. An investigator reads aloud details of the crime — as prosecutors see it — and the resulting brain images are processed using software built in Bangalore.

    The software tries to detect whether, when the crime’s details are recited, the brain lights up in specific regions — the areas that, according to the technology’s inventors, show measurable changes when experiences are relived, their smells and sounds summoned back to consciousness. The inventors of the technology claim the system can distinguish between people’s memories of events they witnessed and between deeds they committed.

    This court decision occurred in June. A couple of weeks ago, an expert committee in India released a study of the BEOS technology and “concluded that it is unscientific and should be discontinued as an investigative tool and as evidence in courts.”

    The six-member committee headed by National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS) Director D. Nagaraj said there was a need to thoroughly examine the procedure and bring it up to established standards.

    In its findings, the committee said there were several factors that came in the way of a dependable and conclusive outcome. For instance, body temperature, heart rate and menstrual cycle, induced factors such as exercise, fatigue, drugs and alcohol and constitutional factors such as age, intelligence, gender and personality of the individual all played a role which needed to be taken into account, something the existing method does not. […]

    The committee said that operational procedures needed to be uniform across various laboratories, and the explicit criteria for interpretation and report need to be established with valid scientific basis.

    I previously blogged about other behavior detection technologies.

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