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Shoeleather Journalism in the Digital Age

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First law protecting consumers’ brainwaves signed by Colorado governor

photo of brainwaves
Colorado Governor Jared Polis speaks about the American Rescue Plan Act on the one year anniversary of the law during his visit to Mi Casa Resource Center in Denver, Colorado, U.S., March 11, 2022. (Jason Connolly/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo)
By Brad Brooks | REUTERS

Colorado Governor Jared Polis on Wednesday signed into law the first measure passed in the U.S. that aims to protect the data found in a person’s brainwaves.

Sponsors of the bill said it was necessary as quick advances in neurotechnology make scanning, analyzing and selling mental data increasingly more possible — and profitable.

State representative Cathy Kipp, a sponsor of the legislation, said in a statement that while advancements in the neurotechnology field hold great promise for improving the lives of many people, “we must provide a clear framework to protect Coloradans’ personal data from being used without their consent while still allowing these new technologies to develop.”

State senator Kevin Priola, another of the bill’s sponsors, said that neurotechnology “is no longer confined to medical or research settings” and that when it comes to consumer products, the industry “can currently operate without regulation, data protection standards, or equivalent ethical constraints.”

The Neurorights Foundation, a non-profit promoting the ethical development of neurotechnology, said Colorado’s bill, which it supported, was the first of its kind in the U.S.

The foundation on Wednesday released a report assessing the neurotechnology industry’s data privacy protections, which it said were often weak or non-existent.

The Colorado law notes that neuratechnologies used in a clinical setting are already covered by medical privacy laws, so the new measure is aimed at consumer products available outside of a hospital.

Big tech firms – including Facebook and Instagram’s parent company Meta Platforms, along with Elon Musk‘s Neuralink – are developing technology that can detect brain activity then potentially put it to commercial use. Mined brain data has endless potential, be it to better target ads, exploit human moods, sell more stuff or regenerate lost brain function.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration last year approved human studies for Neuralink’s brain implants, which had previously been tested on animals.

Earlier this month, the CEO of Synchron, a rival to Neuralink, told Reuters the company is preparing to recruit patients for a large-scale clinical trial required to seek commercial approval for its device.

Elsewhere around the world, other governments have been working to increase consumer protections when it comes to neurotechnological products.

Editor’s Note: Reporting by Brad Brooks in Longmont, Colorado; Editing by Christopher Cushing

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