Monday, May 28, 2007

Dogs Threaten To Invade the Province of the German Judiciary: Olfactory and Dog Tracking Evidence in Germany

The editors of Der Spiegel plainly do not approve of "dog-tracking evidence." See The Scent of Terror, Spiegel Online International (English) (May 23, 2007).

But there is more to this story.

First, I note that Professor Andrew Taslitz's views of dog-tracking evidence have caught the attention of our friends(?) in Germany (id.):

Even in the US, where the rule of law is currently being dismantled in the war on terror, there are qualms about trusting dogs to search for the truth. "Does the Cold Nose Know?" is the title of a critical study by the US academic lawyer Andrew Taslitz, who is demanding that man's four-legged friends be banned from the courtroom altogether.
Second, Der Spiegel notes an interesting experiment that has the air of a parlor trick:
... [T]here has never been an internationally recognized scientific study that proves dogs' infallibility when it comes to odor identification.

Nevertheless, German investigators rely on a strictly defined scent identification procedure, one that has been put to the test thousands of times. Six tubes are placed on a podium, including the sample belonging to the suspect. The dog has to sniff an object that has been handled by someone other than the suspect and then has to find their sample.

In the final test, six samples are laid out, but not the one from the first test. Now the dog has to sniff the real evidence, maybe a tool used for a break in. If three dogs come up with the same results in the preliminary and main tests, then the failure rate is one in every 1.2 million. That at least is what a researcher at the University of Paderborn has calculated.

Sunny, Skip and Zoey have noses that seem to be infallible. The samples are mixed up and even the dog handler doesn't know which one is which.

Third, a West German defense attorney fears that dogs will invade the province of the judiciary and leave us with K-9s in judicial robes:
Hamburg defense lawyer Gerhard Strate, who has been researching the use of olfactory proof, also finds it hard to believe in the infallibility of animals. "Then we could just replace the judges with dogs wagging their tails."
Fourth, Der Spiegel, ever alert to the prospect of 1984 or of a reversion to the Stasi-State notes that the evidentiary uses of olfactory material may be in their infancy (the subtitle of the Spiegel article is "STASI METHODS USED TO TRACK G8 OPPONENTS"):
US scientists are currently working on digitally upgrading the controversial dog tests, so that the scents could also be used in the war on terror. The Pentagon is financing research at Darpa -- Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency -- to develop a detector that can pick up the scent of foreign combatants.

The researchers in Philadelphia have already discovered that scent is inseparable from the genetic fingerprint and in particular the immune system. "Every person has their own unique, individual smell," says Gary Beauchamp, the director of the Monell Chemical Senses Center, who is working on the Darpa project.

People carry so much information in their scent it would make every data protector's hair stand on end. Beauchamp is convinced that it should be possible to "recognize how old someone is, what their gender is, and what illnesses they have."

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