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One of my favorite television shows, nowadays—and, frankly, I don’t like much—is The Future Of . . . on the Science Channel. Hosted by Baratunde Thurston, it does more or less what it says on the tin, with segmments on various bits of future technology presumably destined to improve out lives.

Last night’s episode focused on security technology, or, rather, law enforcement technology, which isn’t the same thing. Among the wondrous bits of future featured was something called “brain fingerprinting,” a process that reaches John Anderton-like into a suspect subject’s brain and plucks out memories. The inventor, Dr. Larry Farwell, was promoting the device for police and counterterrorism interrogations

Leaving aside the fact that it doesn’t seem to work, this is terrifying to those of us who support the rights of the accused. Protection against being compelled to give testimony against yourself is a bedrock of freedom found throughout Anglo-American jurisprudence. You can’t get around it with technology, hypnosis, or promising a suspect a lollipop. There is no way to protect these rights if you reach into someone’s brain and extract what’s within.


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September 2009
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