Ethical and legal issues of neuroimaging-based lie detection

Sabine Müller, Charitè Berlin [back to top]
Although neuroimaging research about mental states is still in its very beginning, neuroimaging- and EEG-based lie detection technologies have yet gained much interest from military, intelligence agencies, lawyers, and enterprises. Until now, none of the new lie detection technology could prove either its validity or its reliability. Nevertheless, from a legal point of view, no absolute reliability is required, since traditional evidences, as witness reports, have a limited reliability, too. Therefore, the main question is an ethical one: Does the usage of lie detection technologies by the police or court harm the human rights of accused persons? The German Bundesgerichtshof and the Indian Supreme Court have denied this – the accused person’s consent presupposed. But without valid consent, the usage of lie detection technologies harms the human rights, namely the right for mental privacy. Using methods, which may read out mental states of persons against their will, is equivalent with forcing them to give a testimony - not to give some physical evidence as a blood probe or fingerprints. Such a praxis ignores the right against self-incrimination and therefore equals torture.
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