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Setting ethical and legal frameworks for the research, development and application of emerging neurotechnology

Olivier Becht / France

Even if the most spectacular applications of new neurotechnology – in particular the brain-computer interface (BCI) – remain speculative, the advances already made and the resources being devoted to research imply “an urgent need for anticipation and precautionary regulation now”, ensuring that basic ethical principles are respected, said the Legal Affairs Committee.

The report by Olivier Becht (France, ALDE), adopted by the committee today, points out that neurotechnology is currently being developed in order, in particular, to create new medical treatments for neurological and psychiatric disorders, but also by military and security establishments, for “neuromarketing” campaigns that would exploit subconscious preferences, and to predict criminal recidivism.

However, “this risks profound violation of individual privacy and dignity and could even subvert free will and breach the ultimate refuge of human freedom: the mind,” the parliamentarians warned. Cognitive and sensory enhancement through BCI could create separate categories of human beings, the enhanced and the unenhanced, or be used for repressive purposes.

In order to anticipate potential risks, the committee called on member States to establish ethical frameworks for research, development and application of neurotechnology, including BCI, taking into account the principles of safety and precaution, respect for privacy and confidentiality, equity and inclusiveness, and prevention of malign use. At the same time, specific legal frameworks ensuring effective respect and protection of human rights must be clearly defined, according to the adopted text. The establishment of appropriate monitoring bodies would ensure effective implementation of these legal and ethical frameworks.

The committee also advocates the creation and legal protection of new ‘neurorights’ to provide effective protection against the risks inherent in BCI technologies and to fill the gaps in the existing human rights framework.

Finally, it supports the work of the relevant inter-governmental committees and proposes to call on the Committee of Ministers to take into account the unique and unprecedented impact on human rights of the use of artificial intelligence in connection with brain-computer interface systems when assessing the feasibility of a legal framework for artificial intelligence.