Advances in neuroscience and neurotechnology could infringe on the “freedom of the mind” by prying information straight from our brains, a team of researchers reports. The team has identified four new human rights laws which it believes would protect our right to our own, unaltered and private minds.

Human rights day at the University of Essex.

Chalked messages on the steps of UoE in celebration of human rights day.
Image credits University of Essex / Flickr.

Advances in neurotechnology and know-how are making some incredible things, such as sophisticated brain imaging and the development of brain-computer interfaces, possible. But there’s always the risk of these technologies being used for applications that aren’t what we consider, in the broadest sense of the word, ‘good.’

The four rights are:

  1. The right to cognitive liberty.
  2. The right to mental privacy.
  3. The right to mental integrity.
  4. The right to psychological continuity.


“Brain imaging technology has already reached a point where there is discussion over its legitimacy in criminal court, for example as a tool for assessing criminal responsibility or even the risk of reoffending,” explains Roberto Andorno, Associate Professor and Research Fellow at the Institute of Biomedical Ethics at the University of Zurich and co-author of the paper.

“Consumer companies are using brain imaging for ‘neuromarketing’, to understand consumer behaviour and elicit desired responses from customers. There are also tools such as ‘brain decoders‘ which can turn brain imaging data into images, text or sound. All of these could pose a threat to personal freedom which we sought to address with the development of four new human rights laws.”

The authors explain that as neurotechnology becomes more refined and commonplace, the risk of it being hacked so a third-party can listen in on someone’s mind also increases. Even an unsuccessful attack on a brain-computer interface, for example, can cause a lot of physical and psychological damage to a consumer. And even if there’s no foul play, there are legal and ethical concerns regarding the protection of data generated by these devices.

Currently, international human right laws don’t extend to neuroscience. But it’s not the first time they’ve been extended to cover the advancements in a field of science — for example, laws concerning individuals’ genetic data. The team says that recent advancements in neuroscience will eventually have us sit down to re-draw certain human right laws and pen in new ones, just as lawmakers have done in answer to the genetic revolution.

So these four rights should emerge in the near future to protect what has always been our final (and increasingly in the modern world, last) refuge of personal freedom. Taken together, they should enable anyone to refuse coercive or invasive neurotechnology, give them a legal defense to the privacy of data collected through such methods, and protect both body and mind from damage caused by misuse of neurotechnology.

The full paper “Towards new human rights in the age of neuroscience and neurotechnology” has been published in the journal Life Sciences, Society and Policy.

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