The CCLE is opposed to compulsory brain
fingerprinting because of its potential to intrude on the individual's
right to mental privacy; it should not be mandated by courts, governments,
corporations, or any other institution. However, from the cognitive
liberty perspective, voluntary brain fingerprinting to clear a defendant's
name, as illustrated in the case below, could prove to be a positive use
for this controversial new technology.
Brain fingerprints under scrutiny
By Becky McCall (c) BBC Feb. 17, 2004
A controversial technique for identifying
a criminal mind using involuntary brainwaves that could reveal guilt or
innocence is about to take centre stage in a last-chance court appeal
against a death-row conviction in the US.
The technique, called "brain
fingerprinting", has already been tested by the FBI and has now become
part of the key evidence to overturn the murder conviction of Jimmy Ray
Slaughter who is facing execution in Oklahoma.
Brain Fingerprinting, developed by Dr
Larry Farwell, chief scientist and founder of Brain Fingerprinting
Laboratories, is a method of reading the brain's involuntary electrical
activity in response to a subject being shown certain images relating to a
Unlike the polygraph or lie detector to
which it is often compared, the accuracy of this technology lies in its
ability to pick up the electrical signal, known as a p300 wave, before the
suspect has time to affect the output.
"It is highly scientific, brain
fingerprinting doesn't have anything to do with the emotions, whether a
person is sweating or not; it simply detects scientifically if that
information is stored in the brain," says Dr Farwell.
"It doesn't depend upon the subjective
interpretation of the person conducting the test. The computer monitors
the information and comes up with information present or information
Brain fingerprinting is admissible in court
for use in identifying or exonerating individuals in the US.
A few days ago Dr Farwell ran the test on
Jimmy Ray Slaughter at the maximum security state prison in Oklahoma.
A jury convicted Slaughter of shooting,
stabbing and mutilating his former girlfriend, Melody Wuertz, and of
shooting to death their eleven-month old-daughter, Jessica.
The crimes for which he is sentenced to
death took place in a house that he is very familiar with. The results
"Jimmy Ray Slaughter did not know where
in the house the murder took place; he didn't know where the mother's body
was lying or what was on her clothing at the time of death - a salient
fact in the case," says Dr Farwell.
During the test, the suspect wears a
headband equipped with sensors to measure activity in response to
recognition of an image relating to the crime - for example, a murder
weapon or possibly a code word in the case of a spy.
"In research with the FBI, we presented
words and phrases that only an FBI agent would know and we could tell by
the brain responses who was an FBI agent and who was not; we could do that
with 100% accuracy," says Dr Farwell.
Brain Fingerprinting has profound
implications for the criminal justice system.
Any decision relies on more than just the
outcome of a forensic test such as brain fingerprinting. However, in the
light of these findings, the case for appeal hopes that Slaughter will
either be granted a pardon, clemency or a retrial.
Critics of brain fingerprinting believe
it needs far more refinement before its use becomes widespread and cases
are won and lost on its evidence.
Needless to say, Dr Farwell disagrees.
"What I can say definitively from a
scientific standpoint, is that Jimmy Ray Slaughter's brain does not
contain a record of some of the most salient details about the murder for
which he's been convicted and sentenced to death," says Dr Farwell.