Brain Data in Context: Are New Rights the Way to Mental and Brain Privacy?

American Journal of Bioethics Neuroscience:1-12 (2023)
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The potential to collect brain data more directly, with higher resolution, and in greater amounts has heightened worries about mental and brain privacy. In order to manage the risks to individuals posed by these privacy challenges, some have suggested codifying new privacy rights, including a right to “mental privacy.” In this paper, we consider these arguments and conclude that while neurotechnologies do raise significant privacy concerns, such concerns are—at least for now—no different from those raised by other well-understood data collection technologies, such as gene sequencing tools and online surveillance. To better understand the privacy stakes of brain data, we suggest the use of a conceptual framework from information ethics, Helen Nissenbaum’s “contextual integrity” theory. To illustrate the importance of context, we examine neurotechnologies and the information flows they produce in three familiar contexts—healthcare and medical research, criminal justice, and consumer marketing. We argue that by emphasizing what is distinct about brain privacy issues, rather than what they share with other data privacy concerns, risks weakening broader efforts to enact more robust privacy law and policy.

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Daniel Susser
Cornell University