People Who Need to Pee Are Better at Lying

No, really.

Abstract: The Inhibitory-Spillover-Effect (ISE) on a deception task was investigated. The ISE occurs when performance in one self-control task facilitates performance in another (simultaneously conducted) self-control task. Deceiving requires increased access to inhibitory control. We hypothesized that inducing liars to control urination urgency (physical inhibition) would facilitate control during deceptive interviews (cognitive inhibition). Participants drank small (low-control) or large (high-control) amounts of water. Next, they lied or told the truth to an interviewer. Third-party observers assessed the presence of behavioral cues and made true/lie judgments. In the high-control, but not the low-control condition, liars displayed significantly fewer behavioral cues to deception, more behavioral cues signaling truth, and provided longer and more complex accounts than truth-tellers. Accuracy detecting liars in the high-control condition was significantly impaired; observers revealed bias toward perceiving liars as truth-tellers. The ISE can operate in complex behaviors. Acts of deception can be facilitated by covert manipulations of self-control.

News article.

Posted on September 25, 2015 at 5:54 AM • 52 Comments


Peter A.September 25, 2015 6:04 AM

OK, next time they want to administer polygraph to me, I'm drinking two bottles of water before coming. And swallow a laxative pill for good measure.

lazloSeptember 25, 2015 6:24 AM

Alternative hypothesis: Water is an anti-truth serum.

Though this does make me wonder about my young son when he's obviously lying *about needing to pee*.

Sammie SepkoSeptember 25, 2015 6:44 AM

It sounds to me like a version of another popular self-control technique for beating the polygraph: voluntarily constructing the sphincter muscles.

WinterSeptember 25, 2015 7:03 AM

A different possibility:
Competition between two behavioral cue systems. That for lying and that for urinating. I assume the test persons tried to suppress both.

I guess the behavioral cues for urinating urge, and their suppression, could easily drown out the liar tell tale signs.

MichaelSeptember 25, 2015 7:07 AM

A nice follow-up to yesterday's yellow-alarm story!

There's a corollary from my work in psychotherapy. There its common that people will need to (relax) relieve themselves as they come to grips with self-defeating fears and judgments during a session.

Like the psyche, this is multi-layered; For example, not needing to pee or rest after intensive work (challenging discussions) reveals the presence of other, deeper illusions aka masks (deceptions).

People will even unconsciously manipulate the depth to which they relax when in the bathroom so as to maintain inner agendas and illusions to the outside.

Definitely something to be aware of in everyday life. Just be aware that different character structures (body-types) have different capacities (completely different scales) for this sort of control!

For some (and you will have met examples) this kind of control has a positive feedback. They want to pee on you - and will come back proud of themselves after a small break. Others define themselves by the control they have over the longer breaks. One is destructive, the other not terribly productive.

@lazlo; your son could use activities where he can 'rock-out' and be out of control in order to learn 'own' his physical self. perhaps a drum-set?

Clive RobinsonSeptember 25, 2015 7:15 AM

It's been known for years that with a little practice of your "core muscles" you can raise your blood preasure and "go red with anger" make the major veins in your neck stand out and pulse, all of which many have and do consider infallible signs of anger.

Likewise if you are aware a "shock statment/question" is comming up you can pretense your core muscles to build up partial preasure, such that suddenly releasing them makes "the colour drain from your face".

And there are many more, including "doing two tasks" to confuse polygraph readings such as mentally counting backwards or adding random numbers.

It's also known that you can make yourself believe things you know are actually not true, that is the body response to a belief is what testers think is a sign of truth telling.

I guess the ultimate question is can you cheat a Fast/Functional Nuclear Magneto Resonance Imaging (fMRI) scanner?

I'm guessing with sufficient practice you probably can, in which case the "Holy Grail" of the IC community will be like the one the fictional King Arthur sent the Round Table Knights after...

BooSeptember 25, 2015 7:25 AM

Depends on what they drink .... change it to something alcoholic and no doubt you'd get a lot of truth! Seriously though .... people/governments are paying for this 'research'?

WinterSeptember 25, 2015 7:29 AM

A polygraph is just as effective as a witch doctor.

"I guess the ultimate question is can you cheat a Fast/Functional Nuclear Magneto Resonance Imaging (fMRI) scanner?"

I think the only cue you cannot control is recognition. What they eventually will be able to show with little doubt is that you already know something or recognize a face, voice, or scene.

There was a nice Columbo detective episode that demonstrated this principle.

A guy had blown up the victim in his car and the explosion was even on film with the murderer standing (not too) close to the car. There was absolutely no evidence of his guilt.

Except, that in the recording, you could see him twitch his eyes just BEFORE the car blew up.

On fMRI, it will be even less likely that you can suppress such responses.

WinterSeptember 25, 2015 7:39 AM

"I'm guessing with sufficient practice you probably can, in which case the "Holy Grail" of the IC community will be like the one the fictional King Arthur sent the Round Table Knights after..."

That is because the whole (Anglo-Saxon?) IC community has a faulty concept of "truth" to start with. Truth is not something Out There that we Know.

Truth is inherently a judgment based a story we tell ourselves. We learn to tell the "correct" stories after reality and society have bashed our heads until we got it "right". What the polygraph measures is the involuntary reactions from this conditioning where our heads were bashed repeatedly.

Every operand conditioning can be weakened or circumvented.

WmSeptember 25, 2015 7:40 AM

No one should EVER give themselves over to the phony lie detector. Like global warming, it is a total fraud. You never hear anyone proclaiming this, except the website, which also carries the Helsinki University study that completely destroys its validity. Nevertheless, the deception concerning the lie detector is continuously presented by cops and stupid news shows as being legitimate.

Another thing about water that most people don't know. The police will give every suspect what is called a 'water test'. Guilty people usually become extremely thirsty and will gulp copious amounts of water when allowed to have a drink. If a person only drinks a small amount, it indicates innocences.

The best way to stop all police trickery is at the very beginning of an arrest or detainment to exclaim that you have no knowledge of what this is about and immediately exercise you right to remain silent and if further detained, to demand to see a lawyer asap. They want to draw you into doing battle with them. They are not interested in what you say, but only interested in getting you to agree with their accusations that you are guilty. You had better man up, you wimps and fools! Cops and prosecutors are NOT your friends, they are NOT honest men and women of integrity seeking truth and justice. They are nothing more than brute beast that are determined to take you down and destroy you for the purpose of impressing their bosses, getting a notch on their gun, and getting the case off their desk. They are under the duress of solving cases in order to keep their jobs and get that egotistical position they want. To take down the innocent is viewed by them as just the unfortunate 'collateral damage' that happens as a result of their great pursuit in 'Fighting against crime'.

WinterSeptember 25, 2015 7:52 AM

"No one should EVER give themselves over to the phony lie detector. Like global warming, it is a total fraud."

Funny. Science is very definite in its judgment. The former has been shown to be snake-oil many times.

The latter has unequivocally been shown to be true by more science papers than fit in a single library.

It is like that old joke where Americans believe "The moon landing was fake Pro wrestling is real".

rgaffSeptember 25, 2015 8:22 AM


"The best way to stop all police trickery is at the very beginning of an arrest or detainment to exclaim that you have no knowledge of what this is about and immediately exercise you right to remain silent"

Except now all they need to do is find some way to "prove" that you DO have some remote knowledge (whether you do or not!), and you go down for lying to the police. No, far better to exercise your right to remain silent and not say ANYTHING, not even about your knowledge about anything! (Although politely informing them that you ARE exercising your right to remain silent is probably a good idea, so they don't just take you down for being uncooperative)

JohnSeptember 25, 2015 9:09 AM

My first thought was that this might explain why certain politicians like to give speeches on a full bladder

JustinSeptember 25, 2015 9:35 AM

Fucking doctors from hell.

When I saw the doctor about it, she called the mental crisis team, claiming I was a danger to myself or others. When that didn't work, she called the cops on me and tried to trump up some kind of criminal charge on me. When that didn't work, I made a couple of complaints about that doctor. When the pain got worse I went to the urgency care clinic. They did absolutely nothing. The next day I went to the ER. They again tried to put me on a mental hold, but the mental health people were taking too long to get there and they didn't want to tie up the room any longer, so they let me go with two days' worth of phenazopyridine for the pain, and tested me for chlamydia and gonorrhea. Negative.

Now I have an appointment with the urologist next month. An initial consultation.

And people wonder why I think doctors are all a bunch of crooks.

Bruce EdigerSeptember 25, 2015 9:57 AM

Ummm, as a Patriotic American, I have to ask why this valuable, TSA-avoiding technique was released, and not Strictly Classified? That is, Terrorists could chug some water while in line at the airport. Discard the partly-full bottle when so directred by an "Agent", and then because of the full bladder/need to urinate, deceive the SPOT observer who is watching for Terrorist Behaviors.

Node dare call it Treason! But we beat the commies, and we'll beat The Terrorists, Too! Don't Tread on Me!

rgaffSeptember 25, 2015 10:20 AM

Because hiding the truth about how bad lie detectors are is a National Security issue, requiring lying to courts and congress and the American people by everyone?

Serious Ostriches!

ianfSeptember 25, 2015 10:49 AM

@ bickerdyke Without question we'll hear from this again next year when it's igNobel season.

Hardly, The IgNobel Ceremonies of 2014 & 2015 both included awards centered on peeing. Twice is a fluke, thrice would be a trend. They wouldn't want to become known as The Urinary Tract League.

2014 BIOLOGY PRIZE [CZECH REPUBLIC, GERMANY, ZAMBIA]: Vlastimil Hart, Petra Nováková, Erich Pascal Malkemper, Sabine Begall, Vladimír Hanzal, Miloš Ježek, Tomáš Kušta, Veronika Němcová, Jana Adámková, Kateřina Benediktová, Jaroslav Červený and Hynek Burda, for carefully documenting that when dogs defecate and urinate, they prefer to align their body axis with Earth's north-south geomagnetic field lines.

2015 PHYSICS PRIZE — Patricia Yang [USA and TAIWAN], David Hu [USA and TAIWAN], and Jonathan Pham, Jerome Choo [USA], for testing the biological principle that nearly all mammals empty their bladders in about 21 seconds (plus or minus 13 seconds).

nobodySeptember 25, 2015 11:02 AM

You may find it difficult to remain silent when police are beating you up, or shoving a mop handle up your ass and ripping a hole through your intestines. Our police have been known to do such things.

You talk about police tests. Look at the Kastle-Meyer test for blood traces:

Any peroxidase type compound in the sample will trigger a false positive. Peroxides aren't exactly super stable in the first place. I used to build rockets based on peroxides as a kid, with electrolyte from a broken battery as the catalysis. I hesitate to think of how much shit out there could trigger a false positive, or how difficult/expensive it would be to prove it a false positive in a court of law.

Or look at breathalyzers. They don't test for ethanol. They test for methyl groups. There's a lot of compounds out there, including our burps and farts, loaded with methyl groups. A false positive is very easy to get, and will destroy your life! Those roadside checkpoints are a nightmare waiting to happen.

MikeASeptember 25, 2015 11:13 AM

@Winter (in Re: Columbo episode)

So, that kid in the restaurant scene in North By Northwest was part of the conspiracy?
Good to know. :-)

dsrulesSeptember 25, 2015 12:19 PM

I totally believe this. I recently watched a world-record-setting speedrun of the video game Dark Souls (killing all bosses in about 77 minutes: ). He needed to pee, but refused to pause and get up and go empty his bladder. Since he sits there every day streaming games for 6 hours or longer, this situation comes up more often than you'd think. It seems like he always gets his "personal best" records when his back teeth are floating.

In this world record run--watched live by around three thousand people, and tens of thousands since--the whole 2nd half of the run featured him scrunching up his face in agony and trying not to piss his pants. He beat a record which has stood for a couple of months, by only one second. To get the world record for a difficult game like Dark Souls requires tremendous amounts of luck, adaptability and executing _very_ precise control inputs for over an hour. His play while beating that world record was extremely precise and focused, more so than even he is usually capable of.

albertSeptember 25, 2015 12:20 PM

If I have to pee all the time, does that mean I'm trying to deceive everyone?

Remember the Ipcress Files, where Harry Palmer (Michael Caine) drives a nail(?) into his palm during interrogation?

Has anyone actually peed on himself during a lie detector test? It might not have helped, but it -is- a statement.

The best free advice you'll ever get from a lawyer is "Don't talk to LE, ever." Even -witnessing- a crime can be dangerous. Remember ALL witnesses are suspects, which is handy if it's unlikely that the real perp can be caught. They might still get a conviction. What a Wonderful World. (Sorry, Louie, you would have known better)

I'm waiting for the Supreme Court to proclaim: "Lie detector evidence is admissible in terrorism cases."

noli me confundere instructam ornatamque comprehenderent rebus

. .. . .. oh

Slime Mold with MustardSeptember 25, 2015 1:46 PM

As I often conduct "interviews" that are actually interrogations, I have great interest in the topic. This article touches on many of the techniques I find most useful.

I felt the advice "If you do find a contradiction, though, don’t give yourself away – it’s better to allow the liar’s confidence to build as they rattle off more falsehoods, rather than correcting them" could use more emphasis and expansion. I gather every possible detail regarding the issue in question, and when describing the "problem at hand" to the interviewee, omit certain demonstrably true, provable, details. Then wait to see if their explanations are consistent with the omitted data. In addition to helping detect deceit, the method has, a few times, convinced me that the subject was guilty of nothing more than paperwork errors and odd circumstances.

@ ianf
My cognitive acumen has been recognized by the Ig Noble Committee. I Just wish they had spelled my name right ; )

Clive RobinsonSeptember 25, 2015 2:20 PM

@ rgaff,

No, far better to exercise your right to remain silent and not say ANYTHING, not even about your knowledge about anything!

Sorry that might work in some states in the US but will get you in trouble most other places. And make sure you are up on the applicable law not just where you live but anywhere you goto, and importantly remember the law changes all the time in every jurisdiction. This is especialy true when traveling abroad, foreigners ard always soft targets for LEO's looking to keep up their numbers etc.

For instance in the UK they can arrest you for failing to identify yourself to their satisfaction. Thus even though there is no legal requirment to carry an ID in the UK --yet-- carrying your passport or photo drivers licence cuts off that particular trick deader than a dodo. If you don't have a photo driving licence which has your address on it, the next trick they try is to challenge you "to prove where you live", that's getting tough these days as the usuall bank statment / utility bill of old is becoming a rarity with companies trying to save the cost of printing and posting, so when you get one keep one in your passport. Also keep a note book and pen on you, and inform the officers that you are getting it out to take notes --you still at the moment have the legal right to do this-- then ask them to prove who they are, and tell them to take out their ID card out as you wish to read the back to check that it's actually an official document (this should be a red flag warning for a switched on police officer). If they refuse tell them they have failed to legaly identify themselves as required not just by case law but by their actual employer, and you are now going to walk away. At this point most sensible officers get the point and things then procead in a civilised way with you and one of the officers busy writing in your notebooks, to the point you go your seperate ways with polite nods etc. Oh decline any invitation to sit in their vehical for a chat it's inadvisable for a whole host of reasons not least because there is sometimes some kind of recording equipment in the vehicle. Also ask if they are recording, what you are saying or doing, and tell them you do not consent to it, and retain copyright at all times (this will stop them selling it to "whakiest police pulls" etc).

If they act the idiot or actually arrest you then apologise and say "No comment untill I've received legal counsel" to every question they ask. Oh if they ask "do you understand" do not say yes, just say "no" pause to draw breath slowly then say "comment", remember they can not detain you against your will if they say "we want you to accompany..." etc politly decline and ask "are you arresting me?" If they say no then say "no, you have my details", if they say they are arresting you ask on what grounds, and write it down, odd as it might seem even though they have powers of arrest they are limited, even though the UK Gov keeps trying to broaden them with the likes in various backdoor ways via the likes of "stop and search". Then when they bring you up befor the "custody sargent" at the police station tell them you will retain your note book as it is a "legal record", if they try to take it and your pen away, then ask to speak to the inspector immediatly, if they refuse you then ask for the IPCC and keep writing things down. Then ask for the "PACE Book" which explains your basic rights, read it slowly from cover to cover. Oh and when they try to take your wallet inform them you are going to write down the serial numbers of every bank note and if they ask why etc just say "No comment", further make sure everything and I do mean everything they take is properly recorded, then insist on checking and correcting as well as "zeding out blank lines". I'm still trying to find out what they can and can not do with your digital items, the law is unclear, and it's way to easy for them to change the contents to remove evidence of innocence or add evidence of guilt.

Whilst in custody they will try to get you to say you understand your rights, continue to say "no"... "comment", it makes their life difficult as it closes a number of avenues to get at you. Specifically is the bit about "if you don't say..." it's technicaly against your rights under past ECHR rulings. Always say "no comment" to the police even with a legal representative present, and remember unless you personaly know your legal representative they may not be what they claim to be, or very good at their job, so say as little as possible to them as well, afterall "walls have ears" these days. Further sign nothing, and don't answer questions about medical conditions or anything similar like medications. Oh and decline all drinks and food, you don't have to give a reason just decline it. Further talk to nobody unless it's being recorded in an interview room. Likewise if you "accidently overhear" something, the chances are it may be a ploy, to feed you information for some reason. Unfortunately they are alowed to take your cloths away for "evidence" likewise they can take blood, mouth swabs for DNA, remember to say you do not conscent, you can not stop them but if it's taken with your conscent you lose certain legal protections. Oh and don't fall for "a witness says..." or "we have evidence..." they are alowed to lie to you but not the other way, so stick to "no comment".

If they finaly get around to letting you go ensure it's unconditional otherwise refuse, and never under any circumstances make the mistake of accepting a caution no mater who tells you it's the best option it's not, legaly you are "pleading guilty" without judicial oversight and there is no right of appeal etc, so no way to subsiquently clear your name, and contrary to what they may say it will effect your future life in oh so many ways. One thing is a nasty little "trial before a trial" into your charecter for sentancing should you ever get taken to trial for anything in the future.

It's all complicated at the best of times, and difficult to keep up with the continuous changes in legislation and when it comes into force etc.

But the important thing is "to provide proof of ID and address then say nothing other than 'no comment'".

rgaffSeptember 25, 2015 3:07 PM

Geez Clive and I thought we were getting close to the brink of all out Nazism over here, you guys are way over the edge....

(and yeah, I should have made my post more clear what jurisdiction I was talking about)

Geri SullivanSeptember 25, 2015 3:27 PM

ianf & bickerdyke: The 2011 Ig Nobel Prize for Medicine went to researchers studying Inhibitory Spillover and impulse control, for its effect on decision-making rather than specifically lying:

MEDICINE PRIZE: Mirjam Tuk (of THE NETHERLANDS and the UK), Debra Trampe (of THE NETHERLANDS) and Luk Warlop (of BELGIUM). and jointly to Matthew Lewis, Peter Snyder and Robert Feldman (of the USA), Robert Pietrzak, David Darby, and Paul Maruff (of AUSTRALIA) for demonstrating that people make better decisions about some kinds of things — but worse decisions about other kinds of things‚ when they have a strong urge to urinate.

REFERENCE: "Inhibitory Spillover: Increased Urination Urgency Facilitates Impulse Control in Unrelated Domains," Mirjam A. Tuk, Debra Trampe and Luk Warlop, Psychological Science, vol. 22, no. 5, May 2011, pp. 627-633.

REFERENCE: "The Effect of Acute Increase in Urge to Void on Cognitive Function in Healthy Adults," Matthew S. Lewis, Peter J. Snyder, Robert H. Pietrzak, David Darby, Robert A. Feldman, Paul T. Maruff, Neurology and Urodynamics, vol. 30, no. 1, January 2011, pp. 183-7.

ZaphodSeptember 25, 2015 3:50 PM


Thanks for the primer for the UK. Hope I never need it over there but great advice for all LE encounters in the UK.


ianfSeptember 25, 2015 4:01 PM

Listen, Geri, just because Bruce brought pee to the table, then bickerdyke made an assertion which I felt a pressing need to disprove despite experiencing acute increase in me urge to void, there was ABSOLUTELY NO OBLIGATION for you to dig deeper still into that IgNobel cesspit to unearth some additional tidbits of urinary-token presence. After all, we don't want this blog to become a battleground where we refer to scientific papers of dubious value as were they weapons of mass discharge of effluent.

Clive RobinsonSeptember 25, 2015 7:05 PM

@ ianf,

... to unearth some additional tidbits of urinary-token presence...

I think Bruce may be "having a wee laugh" or warming up the pot for the VW diesel NOx embeded software scandle.

Put simply VW claimed they had a new low emmisson diesel engine... that did not require the urea in the exaust. The fact that nobody else could do the same did not ring any bells with the rest of the industry,

How did VW keep taking the urea out, without anybody noticing?...

Alien JerkySeptember 25, 2015 7:55 PM

So one time I tried to lose some girth by trying an all fruit and veggie diet. Being a meat eater, my digestive system responded like a TV reporter covering a hurricane. While meeting with some friends at a casino one night, I excused myself to do my imitation of an upside down volcano in the men's room. Gail force winds erupted. Through the gap in the stall door, I could see the bathroom attendant shake his head and could tell this was not a night to work that restroom. I wonder how well that would work during a polygraph.

rgaffSeptember 25, 2015 10:25 PM

@Clive Robinson

"How did VW keep taking the urea out, without anybody noticing?..."

When they couldn't hold it any longer, they peed all over American law, and even got the EPA to aid and abet them breaking the law... Not to mention it was so much easier for them all to lie about it because they were holding it for so long...

ianfSeptember 26, 2015 6:41 AM

You, Clive, want to know “how did VW keep taking the urea out, without anybody noticing?...” – I'll tell you how.

Simply put, people, including newshounds of the contradictory gender that ought to known better, have been conditioned not to talk about anything to do with urea. Indeed with anything in the general direction of, and/or the area of the urea. Call it a weenie-complex, call it anything, change the subject. All I know is that even I, a mature adult by now, have been deeply affected by it: at age ~9, while reading one of these medieval mystery whodunits I came across a vile Jesuit monk who communicated secretly with another—presumably just as vile—monk by means of HIDDEN MESSAGES written in verso with "urine," and revealed by passing the letter sheet over a flame. At that time, I didn't know what said urine was, assumed it to be some secret invisible ink of the Jesuite Order of the Immaculate Misconception Or Something. So I set out to find that out in, for my cohort, the most scientifically-inquisitive fashion.

Thinking that such an ink could come handy come “Running-Away Day,” I dared not ask my parentheses about it for fear of arousing their suspicions. We didn't have an encyclopedia at home, and this was well before Wikipedia. So, next, I accosted the apothecary in our neighborhood with the question – only to be met with uncomprehending, downright hostile, smile. Aha! I conclude, the Secret of the Secret Ink Is Not To Be Revealed outside the already knowhow-irradiated.

Thus I mention that in passing to my pee-rs. “You taking the piss," is what I hear (or imagine remember hearing). Once burned, twice shy… so, no talk of urea-matters for me [t]hereafter (I console myself with that I OBVIOUSLY went to school with offspring of Nobel-laureate class of people!).

As for Volkswagen AG's diesel-test-manipulation policies (and they are not alone in this; TV news say all diesels on the road spew out 10x the stated emissions on average), I am still waiting for answer to this my programming-related question of past week.

Quiana BowldenSeptember 26, 2015 7:43 AM

Yes, the UK gets away with a lot of abuse that would be very difficult to pull off in many western countries, thanks to the proud tradition of the "unwritten constitution" (it's there, only you can't see it ... like an invisible friend).

A word of warning to add to Clive's advice: if you are arrested in an airport in the UK, a different set of rules apply. You do not have a right to a lawyer, you do not have a right to a phone call, they do not have to tell you what you are being arrested for, you do not have the right to remain silent (doing so will be used against you), you do not have the right to not incriminate yourself when it comes to passwords and your IT devices (RIPA).

Yup, that's 21st century UK. Welcome to post-9/11 western democracy!

ianfSeptember 26, 2015 8:30 AM

@ Quiana, I don't doubt a word of what you've written, but these not-rights must've been codified, written down, posted somewhere (presumably on some police public-order regulation pages, or legal aid websites(?)), from where they can be downloaded, printed out & studied in advance. So where are they/ what are they called?

By analogy, when cycling in some (most) bike-unfriendly places, I try to get the necessary traffic regulations there in a booklet, and, when the need for it arose (twice in the past[*]), consult it in plain. That immediately gained the traffic cops' attention, and, after a "face-saving reprimand," I was let go as before.

[^*] in one case when leading a broken bike on the shoulder of a 2-lane road AGAINST the traffic, so the incoming cars wouldn't fail to see me (regulations there didn't spell this out), the cop wrote out a ticket, then tore it up after I said I'd contest his more unsafe than mine "emergency road presence" (made it up) in court.

Quiana BowldenSeptember 26, 2015 8:42 AM


Yes, they are covered in the Terrorism Act of 2000, schedule 7.

The lack of a written constitution in the UK does not mean that there are no written laws. Naturally, legislation is clearly laid out in writing. It merely implies that the parliament can, in principle, legislate anything they wish (no matter how outrageous) as long as the majority of the House votes for it, leaving no constitutional safeguard for citizens.

During periods of mass hysteria, like post-9/11, there is little citizens can do to stop the parliament from depriving them of the rights that most other western nations would consider inalienable (like the right to a lawyer).

ianfSeptember 26, 2015 9:42 AM

Thanks, Quiana. So, the annotated, INCOMPLETE and hard to read “Terrorism Act of 2000, Schedule 7: Port and Border Controls.”

It doesn't mention security or customs officers' rights to demand passwords etc. for one's laptop or smartphone, only of surrender of named (passport) or "same-category" physical documents. All the same, I'd prefer having a more colloquially-written summary doc, perhaps with some real-life scenarios or cases thrown in. Something easy to read on a mobile, akin to this, except for when being questioned on terrorist looky-like grounds.

Maybe somebody already wrote a book about it… “The UK Airport and Border Crossings Procedure Survival Guide…” anyone?

BONUS: two articles by Nicholas Weaver dealing with the subject of preparing one's electronic gear for entry into privacy-hostile countries (with the USA in the lead). Could somebody in the know here review its findings, PLEASE?

8 July 2015, an FBI-primer for Arresting Someone with an iPhone (and gain access to its data within the "confines" of U.S. laws). Also see the comments below, among which was this link:

4 August 2015, tactics & strategies for “iPhones, FBI, and Going Dark.”

Quiana BowldenSeptember 26, 2015 10:51 AM

"It doesn't mention security or customs officers' rights to demand passwords etc. for one's laptop or smartphone"

That's covered by a different act, equally controversial: RIPA (Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000).

ianfSeptember 26, 2015 1:10 PM

Fair enough, Quiana. From what I'm reading, however, neither of these laws' appropriate segments below (subsections) mention the border police's etc right to demand passwords to one's laptop/ smartphone on some vague suspicion of something[*], OR BE REFUSED ENTRY TO THE UK (since one is an undesirable key-goist git).

[^*] in 1992 I awakened suspicion of a non-descript UK immigration clerk on account of carrying a bike helmet and listing the purpose of my 18-day visit as "cycling around the Lake District" (hence no abode address beyond the first night). That was bad enough, but when asked "how many weeks vacation do I have," my answer “four, or five on request” REALLY floored the poor sod ;-))

Uneven BongoSeptember 27, 2015 7:30 AM


I wouldn\'t say it\'s fair enough. I\'d say what\'s been happening in Britain for the last decade and a half or so is actually rather worrying!

Gale EvonSeptember 27, 2015 8:31 AM


"neither of these laws' appropriate segments below (subsections) mention the border police's etc right to demand passwords to one's laptop/ smartphone on some vague suspicion of something"

RIPA compels a detainee to provide the keys to any encrypted material within a specific period. Failing to do so carries a sentence of up to 2 years in prison.

ianfSeptember 27, 2015 3:52 PM

Actually, Uneven Bongo, had you abided by English logick rules, you'd have noted that my “Fair enough,” was a response to Quiana Bowlden with whom I've been playing sort of an applicable-laws-tag to find out what UK border police can and can not ask of a foreign visitor; AND NOT that I consider the state of security affairs to be fair in any way. Hence your objection was misplaced. Still, in for a penny…

@Clive wrote a lengthy post on how to act, what to look out for & not get entrapped when stopped by the police, which Quiana lathered with "airport dimension" warnings that are governed by regulations of the Terrorism Act of 2000, Schedule 7 and RIPA. Unfortunately, she didn't provide granular pointers to sections there that EXPLICITLY spell out the extent of police powers AT THE BORDER, esp. applied to non-British subjects (i.e. those whose rights vs. the police are stated in bilateral agreements that usually include a provision to consult one's consul). So I've been trying to find the regulatory basis for her claims (which I do not question per se, but would like them in official writing) as best I can.

Now, Gale Evon, you chip in with that “RIPA compels a detainee to provide the keys to any encrypted material within a specific period,” YET AGAIN without any specific pointers as to what constitutes encrypted (when at the border) when a smartphone or laptop is only locked (and how would the police know they're encrypted in the first place?). You want to contribute, why not do some law research first & cough up those #granular pointers NON-RHETORICAL QUESTION MARK.

Gale EvanSeptember 27, 2015 4:41 PM

Hello again, ianf. I hope you've had a chance to check your blood pressure since your last post.

In the meantime, here is your granular pointer: RIPA Part III, "Investigation of electronic data protected by encryption etc.", Section 49 "Power to require disclosure".

In particular, note: "If any person with the appropriate permission under Schedule 2 believes, on reasonable grounds that a key to the protected information is in the possession of any person (...) the person with that permission may, by notice to the person whom he believes to have possession of the key, impose a disclosure requirement in respect of the protected information."

For the full text:

Dirk PraetSeptember 27, 2015 6:01 PM

@ Gale Evan, @ianf, @ Quiana Bowlden, @ Justin

... here is your granular pointer: RIPA Part III, "Investigation of electronic data protected by encryption etc.", Section 49 "Power to require disclosure"...

FYI: the issue has been discussed several times before on this forum, the last time when Greenwald's spouse Miranda was detained at Heathrow. From a technical vantage, the simplest method to defeat RIPA and possible rubberhose tactics is to encrypt your stuff with Tomb, with which you can separate the key from the container. You then use Shamir's Secret Sharing Scheme (SSSS) to distribute parts of that key to n different keyholders, requiring at least x out of n keys to unlock the container.

So when someone pulls out the 5$ wrench, you can safely admit that the container is Tomb-encrypted and that you only have one part of the key. If they don't believe you, ask for an expert to be brought in as to verify either with Tomb itself or zuluCrypt that you are indeed speaking the truth.

TAILS comes with SSSS installed by default and I have just finished yet another fine script to have Tomb and a basic Python GUI for SSSS persistently in there too.

ianfSeptember 27, 2015 6:07 PM

@ Justin ve have vays to make you koff (inkvire vithin)

@ Gale Evæn … hopes I've had a chance to check me blood pressure

Now you got me worried, what's wrong with it… what have you diagnosed me by remote control (should I wrap myself in tinfoil and shine bright lights on 'self?)

As for pointers… we both use a digital, hypertextual medium whose main advantage vs. non-digital ones is its ability to employ direct-access links of various (ever so refined) granularity. In plain text terms that means "ability to refer to and abet redirection to a specific fragment of a content without verbose analog bibliographic description of its position within." Subsequently, all you needed to supply was this #granular reference RIPA Part III, "Investigation of electronic data protected by encryption etc.", Section 49 "Power to require disclosure" – thus saving all your readers a lot of bother, should they be so inclined as to verify your data pointer (if I can extract it on an iPhone, then so could you—though I understand that your time is more precious than mine). BAD NEWS DEPT. Now you won't have the excuse anymore that you haven't gotten the #granular RULES memo.

[ As for the RIPA section above, I still maintain that such an unspecified "suspicion on reasonable grounds" is unworkable against non-Brits at the border due to (presumably) being nullified in bilateral rights-to-counsel agreements. Were it otherwise, I'd have heard of it by now. That is my #ingrained opinion. ] BTW. my blood pressure is fine, but thanks for caring.

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