Neuroscience, Ethics, and National Security: The State of the Art

December 30, 2014

#Neuroscience, Ethics & National Security http://www.plosbiology.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pbio.1001289
Interrogations w/ oxytocin truth serum, No-lie fMRI & p300 waves. Scary!

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National security agencies are also mining neuroscience for ways to advance interrogation methods and the detection of deception. The increasing sophistication of brain-reading neurotechnologies has led many to investigate their potential applications for lie detection. Deception has long been associated with empirically measurable correlates, arguably originating nearly a century ago with research into blood pressure [24]. Yet blood pressure, among other modern bases for polygraphy like heart and breathing rates, indicates the presence of a proxy for deception: stress. Although the polygraph performs better than chance, it does not reliably and accurately indicate the presence of deception, and it is susceptible to counter measures. ….

“Brain fingerprinting” utilizes EEG to detect the P300 wave, an event-related potential (ERP) associated with the perception of a recognized, meaningful stimulus, and it is thought to hold potential for confirming the presence of “concealed information” [25]. The technology is marketed for a number of uses: “national security, medical diagnostics, advertising, insurance fraud and in the criminal justice system” [26]. Similarly, fMRI-based lie detection services are currently offered by several companies, including No Lie MRI [27] and Cephos [28]. DARPA funded the pioneering research that showed how deception involves a more complex array of neurological processes than truth-telling, and that fMRI arguably can detect the difference between the two [29]. No Lie MRI also has ties to national security: they market their services to the DoD, Department of Homeland Security, and the intelligence community, among other potential customers [30].


In addition to questions of scientific validity, these technologies raise legal and ethical issues. Legally required brain scans arguably violate “the guarantee against self-incrimination” because they differ from acceptable forms of bodily evidence, such as fingerprints or blood samples, in an important way: they are not simply physical, hard evidence, but evidence that is intimately linked to the defendant’s mind [32]. Under US law, brain-scanning technologies might also raise implications for the Fourth Amendment, calling into question whether they constitute an unreasonable search and seizure [33].”

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