Russian bank puts lie detector in ATM machine

Big Brother's hole in the wall

Customers of the Russian Sperbank might in future have to pay attention to how nervous they sound if they wish to withdraw money from the bank's ATM machines.

According to a newspaper report, the bank is about to deploy a super-secure 'Big Brother' ATM machine (our phrase - ed) capable of interrogating customers withdrawing money using a sophisticated lie detection system that picks up on nervousness in the voice.

To some the spec released by Sperbank - part owned by the Russian state - might sound like creepy overkill but others will see a glimpse of the future of on-street cash withdrawal in increasingly controlled public spaces.

This super-ATM eschews anything as outdated as a mere PIN number, preferring instead 3D facial recognition backed up by voice recognition and a passport scanner. As if this didn't sound secure enough, the ATM will also be able to ask users question, checking their answers against a voice analysis system designed to detect lies.

Ominously, according to the New York Times, this was partly trained using lies told to Russian police during interrogations, rating "nervousness or emotional distress" as suspect.

Despite the worries about civil liberties, the ostensible purpose of the system is to allow ATMs to offer a wider range of products and services than would be possible today using only a PIN code to authenticate the user.

A prototype of the ATM is on display at Sperbank's Future Laboratory with a rollout for the bank's customers scheduled still to be confirmed.

An obvious problem with the technology is that it would make the average ATM more costly at a time when banks are trying to save money. Many citizens would baulk at having to carry around and scan a document as personal as a passport just to access $50 from their own accounts, something such an ATM might mandate in the future.

Authoritarian states, meanwhile, would warm to the idea of being able to track citizens according to their money access, not to mention ask them questions.

"We are not violating a client's privacy. We are not climbing into the client's brain. We aren't invading their personal lives. We are just trying to find out if they are telling the truth. I don't see any reason to be alarmed," Sperbank vice president, Victor M. Orlovsky, told the newspaper.

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John E Dunn

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