Freedom of the mind under threat with new technology
Swiss researchers warn of exploitation and loss of privacy
Mind-reading in Minority Report
New human rights laws to prepare for advances in neurotechnology that put the “freedom of the mind” at risk have been proposed by Swiss researchers in the journal Life Sciences, Society and Policy.
The authors suggest four new human rights need to be defined to protect against exploitation and loss of privacy: the right to cognitive liberty, the right to mental privacy, the right to mental integrity and the right to psychological continuity.
Co-author Marcello Ienca, of the University of Basel, says: “The mind is considered to be the last refuge of personal freedom and self-determination, but advances in neural engineering, brain imaging and neurotechnology put the freedom of the mind at risk. 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.”
Advances in neurotechnology, such as sophisticated brain imaging and the development of brain-computer interfaces, have led to these technologies moving away from a clinical setting and into the consumer domain. There is a risk that the technology could be misused and create unprecedented threats to personal freedom.
As neurotechnology improves and becomes commonplace, there is a risk that the technology could be hacked, allowing a third-party to “eavesdrop” on someone’s mind. In the future, a brain-computer interface used to control consumer technology could put the user at risk of physical and psychological damage caused by a third-party attack on the technology. There are also ethical and legal concerns over the protection of data generated by these devices that need to be considered.
International human rights laws make no specific mention of neuroscience, although advances in biomedicine have become intertwined with laws, such as those concerning human genetic data. Similar to the historical trajectory of the genetic revolution, the authors state that the on-going neurorevolution will force a reconceptualization of human rights laws and even the creation of new ones.
Marcello Ienca adds: “Science-fiction can teach us a lot about the potential threat of technology. Neurotechnology featured in famous stories has in some cases already become a reality, while others are inching ever closer, or exist as military and commercial prototypes. We need to be prepared to deal with the impact these technologies will have on our personal freedom.”
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