POST - Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology

Forensic Language Analysis

Published Wednesday, September 30, 2015

This note examines forensic language analysis, the scientific validity of procedures and their applications, and explores the issues surrounding their use.

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Forensic language analysis looks at the information conveyed about a person in their speech and written language. It is used in a wide variety of situations including:

  • criminal investigations
  • identity verification systems
  • intelligence gathering.

Audio recordings, text messages and emails can be used to help identify suspects in cases of murder, kidnapping or blackmail. However, there are concerns over who can perform forensic language analysis because expertise is not statutorily regulated.

Language Analysis is one of the procedures the Home Office uses when assessing asylum seekers’ claimed nationality. Use of language analysis in this context is controversial and has faces criticism from various research communities and professions.

Law enforcement and security agencies face serious challenges over the vast quantity and anonymity of digital communication. They are developing and trialing technologies to process huge amounts of speech or written communication automatically. Similar technologies are already used in identity verification contexts where voice is used as a biometric (a biological means of identification) to access systems. However, as with other forensic language analysis technologies, they are not 100% error-free.

This POSTnote delves deeper into the issues around forensics language analysis and its use.

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The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology produces independent, balanced and accessible briefings on public policy issues related to science and technology.