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"Brain fingerprinting" research confirms potential

20 April 2017

A University of Canterbury-based pilot project into the science of brain fingerprinting has been completed, with research confirming the exciting potential of the technology, the project team says.

The technology is difficult to manipulate and has been used succesfully in tests and court cases in the United States to help prove both guilt and innocence.

Brain fingerprinting - or forensic brainwave analysis (FBA) - measures involuntary brainwave responses that reveal whether a person recognises particular information.

The testing process uses an EEG machine to measure certain brainwave responses. The person being tested selects various pre-loaded images, sentences and phrases on a computer screen. By interpreting the pattern of these brainwaves, the tester can establish if the person tested has knowledge of particular information.

The University of Canterbury FBA project team was assisted with a New Zealand Law Foundation grant. The team worked with United States brain fingerprinting pioneer Larry Farwell and with the New Zealand Police and Department of Corrections.

Supervised student researchers carried out experiments to observe, test, analyse and verify the technology.

The project, which ran from March 2016 to March 2017 assessed the accuracy and reliability of forensic brainwave analysis technology. It also researched the potential legal and ethical rights, and cultural issues that could arise from using this technology in the New Zealand justice system.

Project team co-leaders Professor Robin Palmer and Associate Professor Debra Wilson say that although there is still much work to do, the research confirms the exciting potential of the technology.

“The project team’s overall conclusion was that the verification experiment results provide a solid platform for further research into FBA technology, towards the goal of applying it in police investigations and the New Zealand legal system,” Professor Palmer says.

Law Foundation Executive Director Lynda Hagen says brain fingerprinting is just one of many exciting new technologies with potential to transform the law and legal process.

"The Foundation is backing several projects linked to new technology, because we want to ensure that New Zealand law keeps up with these fast-moving developments,” she says.

Last updated on the 16th September 2019