Constraints to the Application of ICT Implants: The Concept of Self-Ownership

8 Pages Posted: 13 May 2011

See all articles by Karsten Weber

Karsten Weber

Institute for Social Research and Technology Assessment; BTU Cottbus-Senftenberg

Date Written: June 27, 2009


Those who refuse to accept the idea of ICT implanted in the human body argue that the main purpose of such technology will be surveillance and control and therefore will bring harm to people who are implanted. One can summarize this line of argumentation by claiming that ICT implants would vaporize privacy and diminish autonomy of the implant carrying person. Of course, at least in the western tradition of thinking, one can make a case that privacy and, particularly, individual autonomy are most important for the concept of a person. Therefore, so the argument goes on, autonomy and privacy must be protected and, conclusively, ICT implants must be forbidden. Yet, those you argue in favor of implants often say that in a liberal society people must be granted to deliberately decide on their own whether they would like to accept to be implanted.

Of course, this a very rough summary and it does not represent the complexity of argumentation on both sides. However, in what follows it shall be presumed that both sides are wrong in conceptualizing surveillance and control. While the one side stress that surveillance and control are nothing but threats to autonomy and privacy, the other side even does not take into consideration that there is something like a society which can be negatively affected by individual decisions.

In contrast to that, here it shall be presupposed that there are conditions and circumstances in which surveillance and control can be acceptable both from an individual and from a societal point of view. However, there will be no definition or list of situations in which surveillance and control are acceptable. Instead, the aim of this paper is to find some constraints to the application of ICT implants. Actually, one single constraint shall be discussed: The concept of self-ownership. Thus, the argumentation in this paper strongly emphasizes individual rights and opposes, for instance, utilitarian ideas.

If one takes a look on the existing literature one will learn that self-ownership almost exclusively is discussed with respect to distribution of wealth and primary goods. That means that self-ownership is used as argument in debates on distributive justice. Predominantly, Robert Nozick employed this line of argumentation in his book “Anarchy, State and Utopia” published in 1974. He wrote that book in reaction to John Rawls’ hallmark book titled “A Theory of Justice” which was published three years earlier in 1971. Since these times, a quite controversial scholarly debate continuously is going on with regard to the question how a society must be shaped to be a just society. Thus, at first sight it seems that self-ownership is an inadequate start-ing point, for there are no strong ties connecting the concept of self-ownership on the one side and the application of ICT implants on the other side. But the debate concerning the just distribution of primary goods (see for this issue, for instance, Nock 1992) will not even be touched in the paper at hand.

However, it is most obvious that the concept of self-ownership was deployed to strengthen individual autonomy and individual rights as constraints to state’s and society’s interference with a person’s course of life. In addition, it is most apparent that the use of ICT implants and the modification of one’s own body are already quite common with regard to medical applications. And since ICT implants will be perfect means for control and surveillance the question whether it is possible to find or define constraints is most important for individual autonomy, rights and the opportunity to choose one’s own way of life. Thus, the concept of self-ownership may be worthwhile to look at.

Keywords: ICT Implants, Self-Ownership

Suggested Citation

Weber, Karsten, Constraints to the Application of ICT Implants: The Concept of Self-Ownership (June 27, 2009). Available at SSRN: or

Karsten Weber (Contact Author)

Institute for Social Research and Technology Assessment ( email )


BTU Cottbus-Senftenberg ( email )

Cottbus, 03013

Register to save articles to
your library


Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics