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UK - ICO publishes neurotechnology report flagging the discrimination risks in brain-monitoring technologies

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The UK Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) published a report on neurotechnology and released an accompanying statement on 8 June 2023. 

The ICO considers that the use of technology to monitor neurodata (being the information coming directly from the nervous system, including the brain) will become pervasive over the coming years. Neurotechnologies are developing rapidly: already used in the healthcare sector to great success, they may be used in the personal wellbeing, sports and marketing sectors. In these areas, there is a risk of bias and inaccuracy becoming embedded in the technology. There are particular discrimination risks to so-called neurodivergent people, especially where neurotechnologies are used in the workplace. 

The ICO's report, entitled "ICO tech futures: neurotechnology" examines the impact of neurotechnologies and neurodata and analyses their impact on privacy. The report sets out the key issues, including that:

  • there is a significant risk of discrimination where neurotechnology is used in non-medical sectors; 
  • people need to be able to understand the technology and terminology of neurotechnology so that they are aware of their individual rights and can give informed consent to processing; and 
  • there is a need for regulatory clarity and co-operation, given the scientific, ethical and legal complexity of the area. 

The ICO will address these key issues by: 

  • engaging with key stakeholders, including inviting organisations to work with the Regulatory Sandbox to engineer data protection into neurotechnologies; 
  • engaging with the public to increase knowledge and understanding of privacy in relation to neurotechnologies; and
  • producing specific guidance for neurotechnology, to address the need for regulatory clarity and provide clear expectations on the use of neurodata. 

The ICO's statement is available here and the report is available here.