If we possessed the technology to break into someone’s mind to read their thoughts, would it be OK to use that technology? I’d say no – our thoughts are private, precious, and thoughts alone cannot be criminal. But what if someone committed a terrible crime, a terrorist attack or abused a child? Would it be OK then?
I’m certain this technology to read our thoughts is coming. In the meantime, our phones are working to capture as much of our mind as possible so they can be ready for what we want to do. They read the context of the situation, like when I get in my car in the morning, and give me what I might need right then, like traffic information for my commute. Through every iteration our phones become more of a part of us (I didn’t come up with this idea, I saw it here).
Yesterday, President Obama talked about phone encryption at SXSW. During his talk he made this statement:
"And the question we now have to ask is, if technologically, it is possible to make an impenetrable device or system where the encryption is so strong that there’s no key, there’s no door at all, then how do we apprehend the child pornographer? How do we solve or disrupt a terrorist plot? What mechanisms do we have available to even do simple things like tax enforcement?"
To which I’d respond “We already have this device.” This device is our mind and our thoughts have been private for our entire history. Having another impenetrable device, our phones, doesn’t change things. Moreso, it restores the natural order of thoughts being private.
So how does law enforcement work in this world with an impenetrable device? Well, they have centuries of history to look at for ideas. But I’ll go through the President’s talking points. For both the child pornographer and terrorist you look at inputs and outputs. Where does the device go? Who does it communicate with? I find the tax enforcement example particularly silly, but you enforce it the same way you do today, by requiring everyone to file documents and have penalties for not filing them.
One other small point which I’m not sure matters, but I’d be more OK with allowing mind reading if it could not be done without the person’s knowledge. Because that’s the biggest part of my fear – not knowing when people have been in my mind. A tool to break phone encryption wouldn’t leave a trace. You’d have no idea if someone had broken in.
So again, would it be OK to use mind reading technology? Would it be OK just for alleged criminals? Would it be OK for just the worst of the worst of them?