Coercive neuroimaging, criminal law, and privacy: A European perspective

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Different studies have shown that neuroimaging technologies can contribute to answering crucial legal questions of criminal law, generally regarding guilt, legal insanity and the risk of recidivism. However, the use of neuroimaging in criminal law also raises important legal questions. One of those questions is whether neuroimaging should be applied coercively to defendants and prisoners in light of privacy considerations. This paper examines this question regarding the European legal context. I argue that most neuroimaging applications yield data, which is, in terms of privacy sensitivity, no more sensitive than data acquired through current methods of criminal investigation, such as compulsory DNA testing. Therefore, I argue that some types of coercive neuroimaging will, in general and under certain specific conditions and safeguards, not contravene the right to privacy as set out in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. I suggest that while on the one hand one could advocate the need for a novel, specific European human right to mental privacy, on the other hand, it is possible to argue that such a right may be superfluous in respect of the use of existing neuroimaging technologies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)289-309
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Law and the Biosciences
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 9 Oct 2019


  • Neuroimaging
  • Privacy
  • Neurolaw


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