Feds' Pursuit of Polygraph Cheaters Leads to Sharing of Personal Data of Thousands of People


Knowledge is power. Apparently too much power.

In September, J.D. Tuccille wrote about a man landing in prison for teaching people how to relax and "beat" polygraph tests. McClatchy had been reporting on the federal pursuit as the government tests thousands of thousands of people every year for security clearances.

McClatchy is still on the campaign and now reports on the inevitable side effect of this pursuit. The feds collected the data of customers of two men under investigation and passed that information around to various agencies without redacting any information:

Federal officials gathered the information from the customer records of two men who were under criminal investigation for purportedly teaching people how to pass lie detector tests. The officials then distributed a list of 4,904 people – along with many of their Social Security numbers, addresses and professions – to nearly 30 federal agencies, including the Internal Revenue Service, the CIA, the National Security Agency and the Food and Drug Administration.

Although the polygraph-beating techniques are unproven, authorities hoped to find government employees or applicants who might have tried to use them to lie during the tests required for security clearances. Officials with multiple agencies confirmed that they'd checked the names in their databases and planned to retain the list in case any of those named take polygraphs for federal jobs or criminal investigations.

It turned out, however, that many people on the list worked outside the federal government and lived across the country. Among the people whose personal details were collected were nurses, firefighters, police officers and private attorneys, McClatchy learned. Also included: a psychologist, a cancer researcher and employees of Rite Aid, Paramount Pictures, the American Red Cross and Georgetown University.

Moreover, many of them had only bought books or DVDs from one of the men being investigated and didn't receive the one-on-one training that investigators had suspected. In one case, a Washington lawyer was listed even though he'd never contacted the instructors. Dozens of others had wanted to pass a polygraph not for a job, but for a personal reason: The test was demanded by spouses who suspected infidelity.

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  1. And no one will be punished. Well, that was fun.

  2. “Gosh, boss, I don’t have any idea why Kevin’s lunch is missing from the refrigerator.”


    “Well, I may have taken it out by mistake, but…”


    “All right, I took his lunch, but it was only one time.”


    “OK, fine, I steal my coworkers’ lunch whenever I can get away with it, but I’m only human. It’s not like I’m some kind of Khmer Rouge mass murderer living in the U.S. under an assumed name!”


    “Capitalist pig! I will destroy all of you!”

  3. The information is freely available on the internet. If anything, these people are stupid for leaving a record of themselves paying for such materials.

    That said, this is a 1st amendment issue.

    I’ve been polygraphed 5 times in my life, and the first question they always ask after baseline is “Have you ever sought out information on how to deceive a polygraph examiner?”.

    1. Now now, Comrade. The first amendment notes freedom of speech and the press. That only means you don’t need prior permissions to speak or publish.

      Nowhere does it say you’ve a freedom to listen or read.


      1. I was referring to the publisher who got arrested, but yeah, I get the gist.

    2. Last I knew, libertarians believed fraud should be illegal (and that includes employment fraud). If he was offering training in the best way to cover up a murder, would you still consider it a first amendment issue?

      1. Yeah, pretty much – a course in how to cover up a murder is basically forensics 101 anyway.

  4. Unfortunately, truly — er, falsely obligatory.

  5. Some federal security officials also questioned how useful the list would be. Not only are the polygraph-beating techniques unproven, but confirming that they’ve been used is nearly impossible as well, scientists agree. In fact, the polygraph itself is deemed so unreliable that most courts don’t allow the results to be submitted as evidence against criminal suspects.

    And so teaching people techniques for passing them is a crime because…?

    I don’t see how whatever law this is apparently violating could possibly pass 1st amendment scrutiny. It’s up there with that guy who got targeted for giving dieting advice on a blog without a license.

  6. I took a polygraph once. Lied through my teeth all the way through. The only true statement I made was that I didn’t hook the drops out of the safe nor did I have certain knowledge of who did.

    1. Lying all the way through is somewhat effective.

      1. Aldrich Ames has said that there really isn’t any special trick to beating a polygraph, just be confident and be friendly with the person administering the test.

        1. You might not pass, but a poly is just an interrogation. Admit to nothing and nothing can be used against you.

    2. It sounds like those were the only questions they were actually interested in. (Not that I’m saying the test was valid in any way.)

    3. Er, weren’t you talking about getting a security clearance a couple of months ago? This isn’t the kind of thing you want to be posting if that’s the case.

  7. Oh loveley aint that jsut grand. Wow.

  8. Not only are the polygraph-beating techniques unproven,

    Fixed it for you.

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