Orwell's Thought Police made real: Mind-reading helmet invades privacy of the mind

Recall Orwell’s Thought Police that can invade even private thoughts? Well here they come in the form of a “mind-reading” helmet machine. The maker of this mind-reading technology is Veritas Scientific whose CEO Eric Elbot said, “The last realm of privacy is your mind. This will invade that.” And who is the first customer for the brain-spying device? The U.S. military

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which plans to use it as a truth-telling technology, but it will eventually be used by “law enforcement, criminal trials and corporate takeovers. Eventually, it will even make its way into cellphone apps for civilians.” Elbot told told IEEE Spectrum, “Certainly it’s a potential tool for evil. If only the government has this device, it would be extremely dangerous.”

The mind-reading helmet is:

based on certain types of brain activity known as event related potentials (ERPs). When the brain recognizes someone, there is a specific, well-documented response called a P300. A person sees a face and then identifies it as John, Mary, or Mom. As the person’s brain puts a name to the face, a sharp dip in the EEG appears between 200 and 500 milliseconds after first seeing the face. That dip reveals that the subject recognizes that person. The same reaction occurs with a photo of an object, a place, or even a name.

It will be hard to avoid reacting inside Veritas’s helmet. Fitted tightly to the head without being painful, it will be soundproofed against the outside world, says Elbot. The visor will display images only centimeters from the eyes. The metal brush sensors, still in development, are being designed to go easily through hair and conduct brain signals without the conductive gel used in hospitals.

Homeland Security has already been testing mind-reading terrorist pre-crime detectors as well as having plans to use “hidden scanners” that “will instantly know everything about you from 164 feet away.” You won’t even know you were scanned by the portable snoop. According to the Department of Homeland Security, “this scanning technology will be ready within one to two years, which means you might start seeing them in airports as soon as 2013.” The molecular-level scanning devices are made by Genia Photonics which said, “its laser scanner technology is able to ‘penetrate clothing and many other organic materials and offers spectroscopic information, especially for materials that impact safety such as explosives and pharmacological substances’.” Gizmodo reported that “the machine is ten million times faster—and one million times more sensitive—than any currently available system. That means that it can be used systematically on everyone passing through airport security, not just suspect or randomly sampled people.”

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Your thoughts, your molecules, even your heartbeat isn’t privacy any longer. The EFF pointed out that Intel may be intent upon securing smartphones via heartbeat recognition, although other companies like Apple have been leaning toward using heartbeat recognition to replace iPhone passwords. Certain prison surveillance cameras, like in Australia, when combined with “laser-guided trip wires” make up a security system that is “so sensitive it can detect a mouse's heartbeat.” The Australian added, “the state-of-the-art 360-degree motion sensor cameras monitor every move of the high-security Australian facility's 300 inmates.”

CSI fans may be crushed, but what was previously thought to be undeniable scientific forensic evidence used as proof to send people to prison is now iffy. The FBI is quietly reviewing thousands of criminal cases in which people were convicted based on flawed forensic evidence. “The undertaking is the largest post-conviction review ever done by the FBI. It will include cases conducted by all FBI Laboratory hair and fiber examiners since at least 1985 and may reach earlier if records are available," reported The Washington Post. “Justice Department officials had known for years that flawed forensic work might have led to the convictions of potentially innocent people but had not performed a thorough review of the cases.”

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This makes me even more uncomfortable with the future potential of being dumped into databases for “suspicious” activity or behavior based off of mind-reading machines and secret molecular scans. Whether or not that type of ‘forensic’ evidence would convict people of a crime, or a pre-crime, is unknown. But the Thought Police are coming to read a mind near you soon. If you recall, "It is the job of the Thought Police to uncover and punish thoughtcrime and thought-criminals." Oh joy. Where does that leave us in regard to the First Amendment and freedom of speech, or thought in this case? Or how about the Fourth Amendment which "guards against unreasonable searches and seizures"?

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