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What Individual Rights Apply For A Telepathic Future?

By: Halie B. Peacher

President Dwight Eisenhower stated that the United States “must be forward looking in our research and development to anticipate the unimagined weapons of the future.” Not long after these words, President Eisenhower’s administration created what is now known as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (“DARPA”). With a $3 million budget, DARPA funds researchers who invent technology that changes everyday life, such as the Internet, and the way that we fight in war, like with drones. However, DARPA has not always created life-changing technology through ethical grounds. For example, under the Big Boy Protocol, DARPA compared radiation exposure of sailors without informing the sailors that they were a part of an experiment.

Years later, DARPA and neuro-researchers could be breaking ground on a new technology that borders ethical boundaries. Dr. Justin Sanchez is the head of DARPA’s Biological Technologies Office (“BTO”). Dr. Sanchez aspires to create the ability to transfer knowledge and thoughts from one person’s mind to another’s with the use of a computer. Dr. Sanchez’s dreams are close to reality. Dr. Gerwin Schalk, a researcher who studies ECoG in the New York State Department of Health’s Wadsworth Center, focuses on using electrodes to detect and map the electrical signals coming from the brain. Schalk’s research allowed a man to close a computer image hand by merely thinking about closing the hand. Moreover, in 2011 Schalk’s research was funded by the U.S. Army in the amount of $6.3 million.

Flash forward to 2019, Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg joined the race to create a brain-machine interface (“BMI”) that allows a person to control typing not with a keyboard, but with the mind. Many questions arise as to how the technology will affect the individual’s moral and emotional cognition and how the government will regulate privacy when privacy can be hacked. The data that can and will be processed through these BMIs is as “unique as one’s fingerprint” and, some argue, will create “threats to privacy and personal freedom.” Roberto Andorno is a human rights lawyer at the University of Zurich who is advocating for increased protections as technology evolves.

Andorno and Marcello Ienca, a neuroethicist, have proposed protections for cognitive liberty, mental privacy, mental integrity, and psychological continuity.  Essentially, all of these protections would enhance a person’s right to privacy within his or her own mind. In Canada, the government is tackling what might be a growing privacy concern through its Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, specifically in the liberty and unreasonable search and seizure sections.  In the European Union, research suggests that the Global Data Protection Regulation will take the lead in regulating what is private within one’s mind. Yet, ultimately, it will be up to the public to decide what remains private when it comes to machines that are capable of mapping and understanding one’s thoughts.  


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