Now here is something for the folks at Fortress SAS to worry about.

The world’s largest private software company in two months will roll out a system that could conceivably read e-mails and other written correspondence and determine whether the writer is lying or not. That’s a formidable weapon in the hands of SAS Institute Chief Executive Jim Goodnight, who desires loyalty among employees almost as much as he does privacy.

“That’s a theoretical application, but it’s not something we’re pursuing or any of our early adopters are pursuing,” SAS spokesman Bob Chase says.

SAS’s European subsidiary has promoted the lie-detector potential of the Text Miner program, saying the system could compare word and grammar patterns with someone’s previous written work to find inconsistencies, which could reveal lies. But the corporate types in Cary say there’s more business to be had by pitching the program for customer relations or personnel needs.

Unlike other data mining software that requires information be grouped according to different variables so it can be studied, Text Miner finds key words within unstructured text to create clusters of data that can then undergo predictive modeling and other processes.

Medical researchers at the University of Louisville are testing the product to sort through reams of studies in medical literature, while Compaq Computer is using it to route customer e-mails to the appropriate department for faster response, Chase says. Other likely uses would be to study call center records or patient health records or to match incoming resumes with job openings, he says.

“The program is most applicable for larger companies in almost any industry, who collect huge amounts of text,” he explains.

Market research firm IDC doesn’t break out text mining programs separately in its forecasts, but it predicts sales of all data mining software will grow from about $540 million this year to about $1.5 billion in 2005. SAS won’t disclose sales projections for Text Miner.

Chase admits the lie-detector aspect “is sexy,” and he isn’t surprised that angle has received a lot of attention in the European press. But he adds that psychologists say it’s difficult to pick up lies from someone’s writing patterns -and Text Miner isn’t the cheapest solution for that problem, either.

“This isn’t ‘Microsoft Liar,’ some off-the-shelf program you pay 80 dollars for and install yourself,” he says, noting the program is an add-on to enterprise software that costs upwards of $100,000.