Cognitive Liberty: Looking beyond the Freedom of Speech and Press

By Ewelina Czapla

Cognitive liberty is defined as sovereign control over one’s own consciousness. As the ability to manipulate and monitor the human mind grows with the development of neuroscience and analytical tools the question of one’s right to remain cognitively sovereign will need to be answered. The issue of cognitive liberty raises questions about privacy and freedom of thought as well as the 4th and 5th Amendments to the Constitution. Is cognitive liberty is a basic right? Should an individual simply be protected from cognitive manipulation by others or also be free to engage in the use of mind-altering technologies to improve their own cognition?

Technological developments, such as the fMRI among others, allow for the scanning and analysis of the brain’s activity. FMRI scans can determine whether or not an individual is responding honestly to questions or if they approach situations with an unconscious bias. Additionally, brain scans can identify areas of abnormality in the brain such as a spot or cyst that suggest the propensity to commit a particular kind of crime. These technologies have the ability to contribute to decisions regarding a defendant’s guilt, a prisoner’s sentence or date of parole. Should this technology alter criminal and civil procedure? What are the future civilian implications of technologies like fMRI? Could they be used as a pre-screening measure for employment, similar to a drug test?

If amendments to our rights were made to ensure ‘cognitive liberty’, there would be profound repercussions on commercial and advertising firms, campaigns, and others who may in the future seek to influence cognition. Arguably, should ‘cognitive liberty’ be granted, the balance of power could shift in favor of the individual from corporations or government. Whether people have the right to use the ‘fourth estate’ free of manipulation is a pressing governance question with broad future ramifications.

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