Saturday, May 20, 2006

Roy: Warrantless Brain Scans


This whole search for terrorist collaborators thing is getting a little ridiculous. Tapping into millions of domestic phone calls (and probably blogs and emails and IMs) in the name of terrorism? That's legal?

So, here's my nightmare scenario. If this is legal, the next step is to force functional MRIs on people to determine what they know (about terrorism, of course). The technology is there. Functional MRI (fMRI) measures minute changes in blood flow in the brain, comparing areas to see which ones have more blood flow, and thus are more active. It seems that one must use specific brain areas to make stuff up. This technology is being used for good purposes (eg, controlling chronic pain), but could certainly be applied to darker motives.

Talkleft asked:

"Would the Court view an involuntary brain scan as a nonintrusive gathering of information rather than a search governed by the Fourth Amendment? Would the Court view brain scans as forcing an involuntary disclosure of thoughts prohibited by the Fifth Amendment's requirement that individuals not be made to testify against their will?"
fMRI is not "invasive" in the classical sense. No needles. No tubes. Sorta like going through an airport scanner, but lying down (you can even keep your shoes on). So what's to stop them from using this technology on Gitmo detainees (or on us)?

The chronic pain link above is interesting, BTW. It makes me wonder if real-time fMRI scanning can be used to learn how to better control obsessive thoughts or auditory hallucinations or anxiety.

11 comments:

foofoo5 said...

I have the sneaking suspicion that a true psychopath (and that would seem to be your average, fly-a-757-into-a- building type) will be as elusive to the scan of the fMRI as they are to the polygraph - the emotions (and I'll bet the blood flow) are just not there. This presumes, of course, that the fMRI result have any bearing on the issue at hand in the first place. Naturally cowardly chumps like myself, however, are destined for a midnight flight to Egypt (where "We do not condone torture.") for an "information gathering" afternoon tea.

As an aside, there was a hilarious article in Wired Magazine about using the fMRI to measure "coolness"; evaluating reactions to photos of Paris Hilton, Versace-wear, slick automobiles, etc. Just wait until the IRS gets a hold of one...

Murky Thoughts said...

I'd think lie detection is the nearer application.
Here's a couple more recent (but alas subscription only) Nature news articles on imaging for
Lie detection
Terrorist detection

Murky Thoughts said...

But the really creepy scenarios are mental manipulation by TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation)

ClinkShrink said...

In September 2004 the U.S. District Court in New York decided that Section 505 of the U.S. Patriot Act was a violation of the First and Fourth Amendments. This case has been consolidated with another case (ruling that it was constitutional to subpoena ISP's) and are awaiting decision in the U.S. Court of Appeals. See Doe v Ashcroft 334 Fsupp 2d 471 (2004).

This will be a major constitutional decision when it comes down. It involves the use of National Security Letters (NSL's) to obtain "any tangible thing" relevant to an authorized government investigation. It can be issued by an FBI agent and does not require endorsement by a court. It cannot be challenged in court or quashed. Once served, the recipient is bound to secrecy forever. The original Act even disallowed consultation with an attorney (a secrecy violation). This aspect was modified when the Act was renewed in March 2006.

Be afraid. Be very afraid. It can be used against American citizens with no showing of any wrongdoing whatsoever.

ClinkShrink said...

The relevance of this to psychiatry is:

Section 505 would allow things such as this (in addition to the obvious access-to-records thing):

1. Continuous wiretap of phone calls of psychiatrist's office and/or monitoring of patient's phone calls to psychiatrist
2. Interception of psychiatrist emails to/from patients
3. Confiscation of computer equipment/documents at home or office.

You get this idea. To date over 30,000 national security letters have been issued. The FBI claims that none of these have involved access to medical records, but they have also not fully complied with laws requiring them to report aggregate data to the Senate Judicial Committee.

Roy said...

Here's the Wired Magazine article, which points out how complex and variable the results are with this technique:
The fMRI results have to account for up to 30 or 40 factors other than deception -- including heart rate, respiration, motion -- that might all cause variance in the signal. Also, the area of the brain related to deception differs a bit from individual to individual. Culture, language, personality, handedness, gender, medications and health can all affect the results.

Roy said...

...and this one from Jan 2006 Wired.

Spiritual Recovery said...

Roy: The chronic pain link above is interesting, BTW. It makes me wonder if real-time fMRI scanning can be used to learn how to better control obsessive thoughts or auditory hallucinations or anxiety.

I ran across this blog entry the other day that is applicable...

Some time ago I met a psychiatrist who had an unusual theory about the causes of mental illness. He wanted us to do two MRI scans on a patient to prove his theory. When I told him that we were not yet able to do that in individuals, he was indignant, “But you’ve published all those studies showing abnormal brain structure in schizophrenia.” I explained that all the brain imaging studies have told us quite a lot about groups of people with mental illness, but little about individuals. I do not know of any academic psychiatrists anywhere in the world who think that we can yet use PET, SPECT, fMRI or MRI scans for diagnosis of mental illness.

Source: A New Atlas... Richard G. Petty, MD

Sarebear said...

shoot! I was reading something, somewhere (on a psychological/psychiatric "consumer" site), that linked to a study using one of those brain scan dealies, and used a computer to detect anomalies in the scans too small for a person to see; it'd check for these, and where and what and all that stuff, and apparently it has an 82% success rate at diagnosing schizophrenia (why is it always schizophrenia in these studies? Probably the one that more is known about in the brain that others maybe? But do more on other ones, puh-leeeese!!)

If I find this, I'll post a link in the comments of this thread, if you want it. I thought it was very interesting. And promising, that they are starting to do things on this level. That's a pretty d*** high success rate, if you ask me.

Roy said...

There are a handful, like Amen Clinics, which purport to diagnose based on brain scans. Can't say they are too highly regarded, however, but I long for the day we have some kind of objective diagnostic test in psychiatry.

Anonymous said...

I recently came across an interview on webmd.com with Daniel Amen in which he clearly explains that these Brain scans are only a part of a diagnosis. Dr. Amen states;

So scans don't give you the answer; they give you part of the answer. They give you the biology of the answer. You still have to put it into the context of a good history and understanding of the patient.

So scans are not a doctor in a box, but are a very helpful tool in helping us understand what's going on in a person's brain.


In my opinion, any additional tool that psychiatrists can use to aid in an accurate diagnosis is valuable. A wrong diagnosis can lead to improper medication being prescribed, on the basis of a 15 minute consultation consisting of nothing more than a series questions.