Neuroforensics: Exploring the Legal Implications of Emerging Neurotechnologies—A Workshop

When: March 6, 2018 (8:00 AM Eastern)
Where: Keck Center (Keck Center of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, Room 100) • 500 Fifth St. NW, Washington, DC 20001

Topics Biomedical and Health Research, Substance Use and Mental Health
Activity: Forum on Neuroscience and Nervous System Disorders
Board: Board on Health Sciences Policy



Current developments in neuroscience, genomics, and computing are allowing unprecedented insight into human cognition and behavior in health and disease. Technological advances in noninvasive neuroimaging, neurophysiology, genome sequencing, and other methods together with rapid progress in computational and statistical methods and data storage have facilitated large-scale collection of human genomic, cognitive, behavioral, and brain-based data. As relevant technologies have become more widely disseminated and less costly, datasets have become progressively larger and more informative. For example, technologies for studying the central nervous system, approaches such as genome-wide association studies (GWAS), genome sequencing, and initiatives such as the Human Connectome Project have begun to yield large databases that are increasingly widely used. Such databases make it possible to characterize and make probabilistic predictions about individuals by imputation from studies of large populations. Several ongoing research efforts, such as the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative and the European Human Brain Project are strong catalysts for the development of the next generation of methods for observing the brain and for making experimental and therapeutic interventions. The next decade promises a burgeoning of these neurotechnologies.


The rapid development of neurotechnologies and associated databases has been mirrored by an increase in attempts to introduce neuroscience and behavioral genetic evidence into legal proceedings. Historically, the closest parallel to this kind of evidence has been the polygraph, which monitors peripheral consequences of nervous system activity to assess the veracity of testimony – and which is largely but not entirely excluded. Emerging neurotechnologies promise increased access to evidence obtained from the central nervous system and thus to brain function associated with complex behaviors and cognitive characteristics. Indeed, neuroscience evidence obtained from emerging neurotechnologies might conceivably be used by law enforcement, the courts, regulatory agencies and others as factors in predicting dangerousness; assessing competence to stand trial; assessing volitional control over actions; revealing mitigating factors relevant to sentencing; predicting recidivism; distinguishing pain from malingering; verifying intent; and manipulating memories.


To better understand the potential impact of emerging neurotechnologies on the legal system, the Forum on Neuroscience and Nervous System Disorders, in collaboration with the Committee on Science, Technology, and the Law (CSTL), will plan and conduct a one day public workshop bringing together leaders from academia, judicial and law enforcement systems, industry, government and regulatory agencies, non-profit foundations and other stakeholders to explore and advance efforts to identify and evaluate the potential effects of emerging neurotechnologies on the legal system.



Workshop Objectives:


  • Provide an overview of current state-of-the-art neurotechnologies relevant to the legal systems, and the use and impact of neuroscience evidence in the legal system.


  • Explore emerging neurotechnologies—including methods for observing or manipulating the central nervous system and the genetics of cognition and behavior—and their potential implications and use by law enforcement, the courts, administrative proceedings, regulatory agencies and others.


  • Consider the potential use of large genetics databases and behavioral genetics by the legal system.


  • Discuss the ethical and societal considerations associated with the use of neuroscience evidence in criminal, administrative, and other judicial proceedings.


  • Highlight topics at the nexus of emerging neurotechnologies and the law for further study, such as potential opportunities for developing standards for using evidence from emerging neurotechnologies in the legal system and identifying potential stakeholders across sectors that may be impacted by this multidisciplinary area.

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