In a neurotechnology future, human-rights laws will need to be revisited
April 24, 2017
New human rights laws to prepare for rapid current advances in neurotechnology that may put “freedom of mind” at risk have been proposed in the open access journal Life Sciences, Society and Policy.
Four new human rights laws could emerge in the near future to protect against exploitation and loss of privacy, the authors of the study suggest: The right to cognitive liberty, the right to mental privacy, the right to mental integrity, and the right to psychological continuity.
Advances in neural engineering, brain imaging, and neurotechnology put freedom of the mind at risk, says MarcelloIenca, lead author and PhD student at the Institute for Biomedical Ethics at the University of Basel. “Our proposed laws would give people the right to refuse coercive and invasive neurotechnology, protect the privacy of data collected by neurotechnology, and protect the physical and psychological aspects of the mind from damage by the misuse of neurotechnology.”
Sophisticated brain imaging and the development of brain-computer interfaces have moved away from a clinical setting into the consumer domain. There’s a risk that the technology could be misused and create unprecedented threats to personal freedom. For example:
- Uses in criminal court as a tool for assessing criminal responsibility or even the risk of re-offending.*
- Consumer companies using brain imaging for “neuromarketing” to understand consumer behavior and elicit desired responses from customers.
- “Brain decoders” that can turn a person’s brain imaging data into images, text or sound.**
- Hacking, allowing a third-party to eavesdrop on someone’s mind.***
International human rights laws currently make no specific mention of neuroscience. But as with the genetic revolution, the on-going neurorevolution will require consideration of human-rights laws and even the creation of new ones, the authors suggest.
* “A possibly game-changing use of neurotechnology in the legal field has been illustrated by Aharoni et al. (2013). In this study, researchers followed a group of 96 male prisoners at prison release. Using fMRI, prisoners’ brains were scanned during the performance of computer tasks in which they had to make quick decisions and inhibit impulsive reactions. The researchers followed the ex-convicts for 4 years to see how they behaved. The study results indicate that those individuals showing low activity in a brain region associated with decision-making and action (the Anterior Cingulate Cortex, ACC) are more likely to commit crimes again within 4 years of release (Aharoni et al. 2013). According to the study, the risk of recidivism is more than double in individuals showing low activity in that region of the brain than in individuals with high activity in that region. Their results suggest a “potential neurocognitive biomarker for persistent antisocial behavior”. In other words, brain scans can theoretically help determine whether certain convicted persons are at an increased risk of reoffending if released.” — Marcello Ienca and Roberto Andorno/Life Sciences, Society and Policy
** NASA and Jaguar are jointly developing a technology called Mind Sense, which will measure brainwaves to monitor the driver’s concentration in the car (Biondi and Skrypchuk 2017). If brain activity indicates poor concentration, then the steering wheel or pedals could vibrate to raise the driver’s awareness of the danger. This technology can contribute to reduce the number of accidents caused by drivers who are stressed or distracted. However, it also opens theoretically the possibility for third parties to use brain decoders to eavesdropping on people’s states of mind. — Marcello Ienca and Roberto Andorno/Life Sciences, Society and Policy
*** Criminally motivated actors could selectively erase memories from their victims’ brains to prevent being identified by them later on or simply to cause them harm. On the long term-scenario, they could be used by surveillance and security agencies with the purpose of selectively erasing dangerous, inconvenient from people’s brain as portrayed in the movie Men in Black with the so-called neuralyzer. — Marcello Ienca and Roberto Andorno/Life Sciences, Society and Policy
Abstract of Towards new human rights in the age of neuroscience and neurotechnology
Rapid advancements in human neuroscience and neurotechnology open unprecedented possibilities for accessing, collecting, sharing and manipulating information from the human brain. Such applications raise important challenges to human rights principles that need to be addressed to prevent unintended consequences. This paper assesses the implications of emerging neurotechnology applications in the context of the human rights framework and suggests that existing human rights may not be sufficient to respond to these emerging issues. After analysing the relationship between neuroscience and human rights, we identify four new rights that may become of great relevance in the coming decades: the right to cognitive liberty, the right to mental privacy, the right to mental integrity, and the right to psychological continuity.
Topics: Cognitive Science/Neuroscience | Social/Ethical/Legal