Neuroscience, Mental Privacy, and the Law

61 Pages Posted: 4 Jun 2013 Last revised: 29 Mar 2014

See all articles by Francis X. Shen

Francis X. Shen

University of Minnesota Law School

Date Written: March 23, 2013

Abstract

Will brain science be used by the government to access the most private of spaces — our minds — against our wills? Such scientific tools would have tremendous privacy implications if the government suddenly used brain science to more effectively read minds during police interrogations, criminal trials, and even routine traffic stops. Pundits and scholars alike have thus explored the constitutional protections that citizens, defendants, and witnesses would require to be safe from such mind searching. Future-oriented thinking about where brain science may lead us can make for great entertainment and can also be useful for forward-thinking policy development. But only to a point. In this Article, I reconsider these concerns about the use of brain science to infer mental functioning. The primary message of this Article is straightforward: “Don’t panic!” Current constitutional protections are sufficiently nimble to allow for protection against involuntary government machine-aided neuroimaging mind reading. The chief challenge emerging from advances in brain science is not the insidious collection of brain data, but how brain data is (mis)used and (mis)interpreted in legal and policy settings by the government and private actors alike. The Article proceeds in five parts. Part I reviews the use of neuroscientific information in legal settings generally, discussing both the recent rise of neurolaw as well as an often overlooked history of brain science and law that stretches back decades. Part II evaluates concerns about mental privacy and argues for distinguishing between the inferences to be drawn from the data and the methods by which the data is collected. Part III assesses current neuroscience techniques for lie detection and mind reading. Part IV then evaluates the relevant legal protections available in the criminal justice system. I argue that the weight of scholarly opinion is correct: The Fourth Amendment and Fifth Amendment likely both provide protections against involuntary use of machine-aided neuroimaging mind reading evidence. Part V explores other possible machine-aided neuroimaging mind reading contexts where these protections might not apply in the same way. The Article then briefly concludes.

Keywords: law and neuroscience, neurolaw, mental privacy, lie detection, memory detection, brain, EEG, fMRI

Suggested Citation

Shen, Francis X., Neuroscience, Mental Privacy, and the Law (March 23, 2013). 36 Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy 653-713 (2013); Minnesota Legal Studies Research Paper No. 13-33. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2269078

Francis X. Shen (Contact Author)

University of Minnesota Law School ( email )

Minneapolis, MN
United States

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