In what must be the most asinine criminal prosecution of the past month, a federal grand jury issued an indictment earlier this week charging an Oklahoma man with five counts of obstructing justice and defrauding the government by teaching customers how to beat the polygraph.
Doug Williams, owner of Polygraph.com, offers online tutorials and in-person, private training to pass a polygraph exam even if the person intentionally lied while answering questions.
The Supreme Court in U.S. v Scheffer (1998) has ruled that: “There is simply no consensus that polygraph evidence is reliable: The scientific community and the state and federal courts are extremely polarized on the matter.”
That’s because lie detectors rely on a flawed principle: that people necessarily become nervous when they lie, and that when people are nervous, they must be lying.
Both statements are false: people are not necessarily nervous when they lie; and people may be nervous, especially in a law enforcement situation hooked up to a machine, even if they aren’t lying.
Imagine the government used a psychic to tell whether a suspect was lying or not. And imagine Mr. Williams ran a service explaining to people that a psychic is nonsense. How in the world would this be illegal?
George W. Maschke, co-founder of AntiPolygraph.org who believes he, too, may have been targeted in a similar investigation, told Mashable he was concerned by the implications of Williams’s indictment. “The indictment of Doug Williams raises serious constitutional questions,” he said. “Is it a crime to teach others how to pass a polygraph?”
Well, in modern America, with laws as broad as “wire fraud,” the government can prosecute for just about any act that the government doesn’t like.