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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

"The Next Civil Rights Battle" in Wired Magazine

Wired magazine has an article on "Why the Next Civil Rights Battle Will Be Over the Mind."  Here's the gist (which seems to fall more naturally under the heading of "civil liberties" rather than "civil rights"):

It's true that most of this technology is still gestational. But the early experiments are compelling: Some researchers say that fMRI brain scans can detect surprisingly specific mental acts — like whether you're entertaining racist thoughts, doing arithmetic, reading, or recognizing something. Entrepreneurs are already pushing dubious forms of the tech into the marketplace: You can now hire a firm, No Lie MRI, to conduct a "truth verification" scan if you're trying to prove you're on the level. Give it 10 years, ethicists say, and brain tools will be used regularly — sometimes responsibly, often shoddily.

Both situations scare civil libertarians. What happens when the government starts using brain scans in criminal investigations — to figure out if, say, a suspect is lying about a terrorist plot? Will the Fifth Amendment protect you from self-incrimination by your own brain? Think about your workplace, too: Your boss can already demand that you pee in a cup. Should she also be allowed to stick your head in an MRI tube as part of your performance review?

I'm quoted in the article for noting that our memories are not entirely our own.  Even now, for example, the government can subpoena you and require that you testify about the contents of your memory.   And we may well have moral obligations to share information of great societal value (e.g., eyewitness testimony about a murder).  I discuss the subject in some detail here.

Posted by Adam Kolber on March 25, 2008 at 07:51 AM | Permalink


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