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Ethical implications of techno-implants

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The European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies (EGE) has called for regulation of the field of "information and communication technologies" (ICT) implants in humans, citing privacy and data protection concerns surrounding the burgeoning technology.

An EGE presentation to the EU today claims: "ICT implants, due to their network capability could be misused in several ways for all kinds of social surveillance or manipulation." It further notes that ICT implants can be used for medical and other purposes. In both cases, informed consent is required, but: "This information should not only concern possible benefits and health risks but also risks that such implants could be used to locate people and/or obtain access to information stored in these devices without the permission of the individuals in whom the devices are implanted."

Rather worryingly, the EGE continues: "The idea of placing ICT devices 'under our skin' in order not just to repair but even to enhance human capabilities gives rise to science fiction visions with threat and/or benefit characteristics. However, in some cases, the implantation of microchips with the potential for individual and social forms of control is already taking place."

An example? Well, the EGE offers the brain implants developed to control tremors caused by Parkinson’s disease, which show that "ICT implants may influence the nervous system and particularly the brain and thus human identity as a species as well as individual subjectivity and autonomy".

It's not that the EGE is opposed to such medical applications, but is making the "general point that non-medical applications of ICT implants are a potential threat to human dignity and democratic society". Accordingly, the EGE declares:

Currently, non-medical ICT implants in the human body are not explicitly covered by existing legislation, particularly in terms of privacy and data protection. In the EGE’s view, implantable devices for medical purposes should be regulated in the same way as drugs when the medical goal is the same, particularly as such implants are only partly covered by Council Directive 90/385/EEC on the approximation of the laws of the Member States relating to active implantable medical devices. The EGE recommends that the European Commission should launch legislative initiatives in these areas of ICT implant applications.

The EGE insists that surveillance applications of ICT implants may only be permitted if the legislator considers that there is an urgent and justified necessity in a democratic society and that there are no less intrusive methods. Nevertheless, the EGE does not favour such uses and considers that surveillance applications, under all circumstances, must be specified in legislation, and that surveillance procedures in individual cases should be approved and monitored by an independent court.

So what of Kevin Warwick - aka Captain Cyborg - and his ongoing attempts to create an unregulated cyberhuman? Fear not, the EGE has it covered:

ICT implants could be used to enhance physical and mental capabilities. Efforts should be made to make sure that such ICT implants are not used to create a two class society or to increase the gap between the industrialized countries and the rest of the world. Access to ICT implants for enhancement should only be for the purpose of bringing children or adults into the “normal” range for the population (normal meaning the conditions that generally prevail and that are not caused by genetic malfunction, disease or deficiency and lacking observable abnormalities), if they so wish and have given their informed consent.

Which pretty well sounds the death knell for Warwick's plan to surgically enhance himself for the greater benefit of humanity. Good show. There's more on the EGE right here. ®

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