Researchers have called for radical new legislation protecting people’s thoughts from being stolen and maybe even deleted.
Biomedical ethicists Marcello Ienca and Roberto Andorno believe that while rapid advances in neurotechnology have created opportunities in modern medicine, they also present new challenges for human privacy.
Waiting in the journal Life Sciences, Society and Policy, the pair have warned that brain-hacking and “hazardous use of medical neurotechnology” could threaten the integrity of our thoughts.
The ethicists wrote: “We suggest that in response to emerging neurotechnology possibilities, the right to mental integrity should not exclusively guarantee protection from mental illness or traumatic injury but also from unauthorised intrusions into a person’s mental wellbeing performed through the use of neurotechnology, especially if such intrusions result in physical or mental harm.”
The proposal sets out four new human rights laws: the right to mental privacy, mental integrity, cognitive liberty and psychological continuity. It is hoped that, in the future, these laws could be used as safeguards preventing people’s brains from being read or stimulated without their consent.
Fear of cognitive intrusion is not paranoia borne out of science fiction, they say.
There are currently no laws governing the collection of brain information and Ilenca and Andorno fear “the indiscriminate leakage of brain data across the infosphere”, in the same way as personal information is shared now.
Ienca said: “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.”