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Colorado enacted a law meant to stop tech companies sharing your brain-wave data

Mia Jankowicz   

Colorado enacted a law meant to stop tech companies sharing your brain-wave data
  • Colorado lawmakers have signed a bill aimed at protecting privacy in the burgeoning field of neurotech.
  • The act expands the definition of "sensitive" data to include our neural information.

Lawmakers in Colorado have passed a law aimed at protecting a new frontier in privacy: your brain activity.

Gov. Jared Polis signed the new law after it passed in the Colorado House by a vote of 61-to-1, and in the Senate 34-to-0.

The bill takes aim at the growing neurotechnology industry.

In simple terms, the Protect Privacy of Biological Data Act expands the definition of "sensitive data" in the state's privacy laws to encompass biological and neural data.

"Data concerning the activity of the human brain and wider nervous systems, or 'neural data,' is extremely sensitive and can reveal intimate information about individuals, including information about health, mental states, emotions, and cognitive functioning," the bill stated.

Because every brain is different, the storage of neural data "always contains sensitive information that may link the data to an identified or identifiable individual," it added.

While we've grown more accustomed to the storage, processing, and increasingly the sale of private data harvested from areas like social media and wearable tech, many may balk at sharing neural data so readily.

Jared Genser, cofounder of the Neurorights Foundation, which supported the bill's passage, told The New York Times that data processed by consumer neurotechnology remains largely unregulated.

He said it escapes the kind of protections offered to, for example, patient data in a healthcare setting.

The consumer neurotechnology industry has few household names — Elon Musk's Neuralink being one of the few to reach wider public awareness.

Even so, it has potential applications in almost every area of human life.

Neural interfaces are being developed to do everything from picking up subtle signs of hard-to-track health conditions, to monitoring workplace productivity, to even seeing how the brain responds while shopping online.

But the fanfare around Neuralink's first human patient back in March came with a chorus of ethical concerns — not only around the widely-hyped uncharted territory of AI, but also around privacy.

A report published by the Neurorights Foundation found worrying signs of the potential for neurotechnology start-ups to share data with third parties, The Times reported.

"The things that people can do with this technology are great," Rep. Cathy Kipp, who introduced the Colorado bill, told the Times. "But we just think that there should be some guardrails in place for people who aren't intending to have their thoughts read and their biological data used."

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