UNESCO’s International Bioethics Committee: Recommendations

Neurotechnology is set to play an increasingly important role in our lives. For better, when it comes to providing solutions to treat certain neurological or mental illnesses. And for worse, if it opens the door to the unconsented exploitation of our brain data.

It is precisely these unprecedented ethical and legal issues raised by the advance of neuroscience that have been addressed in the latest report of UNESCO’s International Bioethics Committee (IBC). The report makes a series of recommendations, while advocating for the creation of a new set of human rights, called “neurorights”.

This is because neurotechnologies, which make it possible to record and transmit neural data, have the potential to open up access to information stored by the brain. The issue is all the more sensitive as this data is increasingly used by the medical sector – but also by industry, marketing, and the gaming industry.

While legal frameworks exist to protect privacy and consumers, there is currently a virtual legal vacuum when it comes to the ethical risks associated with neurotechnology. The human rights protection system itself does not cover all aspects of neuroscience, such as mental privacy or free will. The report, therefore, calls on each country to guarantee the neurorights of its citizens by adopting laws that protect their right to mental privacy and freedom of thought. The IBC stresses the need to pay special attention to children and adolescents, because of the plasticity of their developing brains.

The Committee also calls on technology companies to adhere to a code of conduct for responsible research and innovation, and on researchers to respect the principles of confidentiality, security, and non-discrimination.

The media, the authors of the report point out, also has a specific role to play, in objectively explaining the issues surrounding neurotechnology, so that the public can make informed decisions about what is and is not acceptable.

Finally, the report recommends that UNESCO take the lead to ensure that all humans have a right to the protection of their brain activity, so that the data collected can only be used, published or traded with the informed and explicit consent of individuals. The Organization is currently leading international discussions to develop a road map that will serve as the basis for a global framework for the governance of neurotechnology.

 

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