Brain scans misused as lie detectors

Experts meeting at a conference at the Institute of Advanced Studies in Glasgow have warned that measures are needed to stop brain scans being misused by courts, insurers and employers.

Attempts have been made to use magnetic resonance imaging scans as lie detectors or to demonstrate mental health problems in more than 90 capital punishment cases in the US, as well as in other proceedings in Europe and Asia. While they have been rejected in many cases, scan results have sometimes been accepted as evidence.

Mr Schafer, co-director of the SCRIPT Centre for Research in Intellectual Property and Technology at the University of Edinburgh’s school of law, said the UK had to consider how to prevent MRI scans being misused – and how to protect people’s privacy.

“After data mining and online profiling, brain imaging could well become the next frontier in the privacy wars. The promise to read a person’s mind is beguiling, and some applications will be greatly beneficial. But a combination of exaggerated claims by commercial providers, inadequate legal regulation and the persuasive power of images bring very real dangers for us as citizens.”

Mr Schafer added there was also a chance employers could seek to use scans to test the honesty of an individual’s CV – or by insurance companies. At least one US company is offering scans to employers recruiting staff

Joanna Wardlaw, professor of applied neuroimaging at the University of Edinburgh, said brain scans could show differences between groups who thought differently in a research setting. But she added:

“It’s very, very difficult to apply the results of an individual’s scan in situations such as where there is a threat of legal action.

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