Existing laws may already allow ‘Thought Police’

Over the last little while, I have been ranting about the ever-increasing legislation to censor our communication.

Let’s not kid ourselves:  governments today are opposed to information being freely available to their citizens.  ‘Regulating’ things gives governments power over its citizens and collecting fees for ‘regulating’ is an important source of revenue for them.  From UN on, the aim of governments is to ‘regulate’:  it gives them both power and money.

It is only when we, the ‘unwashed masses’, show up – wielding pitchforks – and threaten to our legislators with defenestration* that they will unwillingly and grudgingly step back and allow us to keep some of our inherent rights and freedoms!

Still, when we do, we can make a difference:  the New Zealand government is backing off implementing its controversial ‘Section 92A’ of their copyright law, which would force all ISPs to cut off internet access to anyone even accused of copyright violation!  It looks like the internet petition, protests from all sides (except the movie and music industry) and the loud, loud outcry which echoed worldwide did have some effect:  the government will send that section ‘back to committee’ for re-drafting!  But, the fact that they are re-considering it does not mean they will come to a different conclusion… and passing it quietly, once the fuss had died down.

The fact of the matter is that governments will censor and restrict (sorry, they prefer the term ‘regulate’) as much as we, the citizens, will allow them to!  Once something becomes ‘accepted practice’,  there is grounds for it to become part of our laws, whether we like it or not.

What I’m about to write next is a little bit of ‘reductio ad absurdum’ argument, and I freely admit that.  Yet, it does illustrate what I think is an important principle which we ought not loose sight of…

All around the world, we have accepted that governments have the right to regulate ‘the airwaves’.  Of course, the word ‘airwaves’ is a misnomer:  what is mean by this is the transmission of information using electromagnetic radiation (waves) which travel through the air.  Whether it is the US FCC, Canada’s CRTC, Ofcom in Britain,  ARCEP in France or any other nation’s body – the common thread here is that EVERY governments has established that IT has the RIGHT to regulate the transmission of information vie EM waves through the air.

It is on this basis that it licenses – and censors – radio and television stations. It regulates who is allowed to access which wavelengths, and when, and how.

Most of us have come to accept this as their ‘right’ – if not their outright role, and therefore DUTY.

We seem to have simply ‘accepted’ the premise that governments HAVE the right to regulate the transmission of information using EM radiation.  And, undoing such an assumption will be difficult!

Now, I would like to remind everyone of my first law of human-dynamics:  if a law can be abused, it will be!

How often have our legislators (or the bureaucrats who actually control the implementation of any government policy) passed a law, only to later expand its application in ways the populace never dreamed of – and would not have approved, had they understood just how twisted this law can be?  (If you can’t remember, here is an example from Australia…)

Back to my main point:  how does fMRI work?

Well, in layman’s terms, it is a medical imaging device which measures the EM transmissions of our brain as we think.

As in,when we think, our brain actually converts our thoughts (or, perhaps, makes our thoughts) as a form of EM radiation, which it then transmits these waves outside our brain… where this nifty machine can detect them.

But, did we not just accept that our governments have the right to regulate these???

Please, think about it!

Note:  *defenestration – when talking about ‘open-source code’, the word ‘defenestration’ (meaning, ‘out of windows’) becomes a bit of a pun…
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6 Responses to “Existing laws may already allow ‘Thought Police’”

  1. pochp Says:

    The mind-reading machines make thought-censorship triply dangerous.

  2. CodeSlinger Says:


    Things are actually worse than you thought. The thought police are already here. Here’s an example that doesn’t depend on any reductio ad absurdum or extrapolation, it is already in use. In court. Today.

    Brain Fingerprinting

    A good introduction can be found in the Wikipedia article about it.

    This guy has developed a scheme, using EEG (electroencephalography) which he claims can tell whether a suspect recognizes something by analyzing the suspects’ brain waves. It’s touted as a kind of direct, mind-reading lie detector. It has already been ruled as admissible evidence in several states, and has already been used in several high profile court cases. Of course, judges and juries treat it as though it’s infallible — after all, it reads the suspect’s mind…


    I have a paper, from a peer-reviewed neurophysiology journal, which gives details on how to defeat the device:

    Rosenfeld, J P, Soskins, M, Bosh, G, & Ryan, A, 2004: Simple, effective countermeasures to P300-based tests of detection of concealed information. Psychophysiology, 41(1):205-219.

    But don’t confuse the issue with facts! It says here in the law that this thing works…

    Xanthippa says:
    Gee, I did not know that!!!

    I was thinking simply of the technology behind neuromarketing…and how it could be subverted by ‘the state’… I didn’t realize the WAY less accurate EEG could ever BS itself into this realm!

    Of course, the upshot of ‘all this’ is that ‘telepathy’ is now scientifically ‘proven’ – we just have to have the ‘right’ receptors…but, that is a very, very different topic.

    Still, I am worried… Now, we have developed technologies which can be embedded into doorframes, and which can download all the data from a personal digital device (like phone or camera or an organizer) as a person passes through it, without that person’s knowledge. (There are also tables that can do the job, if the electronic device comes close enough.) (Yes, there has GOT to be a gold-mine in producing some cases for these things with shielding devices!)

    So, how difficult would it be – how far are we from a technology – that will be able to be built into an enclosed space (say, an elevator, a meeting room, etc.) which will be able to scan people’s brains without their knowledge, for purposes that the ‘scanee’ would never agree to?

    (And, I doubt that tinfoil hats would help…much!)

  3. CodeSlinger Says:


    I’m not aware of any such technology; brain waves are so weak that sensing them requires the sensors to be touching, or nearly touching, the scalp. There are, however, some optical techniques for measuring non-electrical indicators of neural metabolism that might be developed in that direction in the next decade or two. Nonetheless, I can think of some methods the exist today that come a close second. Like gaze-tracking, and facial-expression recognition, and posture analysis, and remote monitoring of breathing, heart rate and body temperature. Put these together and they tell you a lot, even if they can’t read explicit thoughts.

    However, the opposite direction — providing input to the brain — is another matter. There are, of course, invasive techniques involving direct brain stimulation with implanted electrodes and radio-controlled micro-pumps that release neurotransmitters directly into selected brain centres, but these cannot be used surreptitiously. In the other hand, there are at least two techniques that can be used to make you hear voices (!) that no one else around you can hear.

    The first is called acoustic holography (see also wave field synthesis), which is exactly the same as optical holography, except that it uses sound waves instead of light waves. Just as optical holography can create arbitrary three-dimensional patterns of light, acoustic holography can do the same with sound. One possible pattern that can be created is a pair of sound sources right next to your ears, like virtual earphones that are too quiet for anyone else to hear, but sound to you like a voice originating inside your own head. Luckily, you can shut these sounds out by plugging your ears.

    Not so with the second technique, called the Frey effect. It works by modulating a microwave or UHF carrier with sounds for you to hear, and beaming it at your head. The signal is demodulated by nonlinear thermal effects in your auditory neurons. This means that it can be made to seem arbitrarily loud and no amount of plugging your ears will make it go away! Ironically enough, something closely resembling a tinfoil hat really will protect you from this technique.

    Of course, the U.S. Navy is already weaponizing this technology. And bear in mind that all the sources I’ve pointed you to are publicly available, unclassified information. It is well known that the classified work is at least twenty years ahead of what is admitted to publicly. Some say fifty years. Are you creeped out yet?

    Thanks for the link to David Rowan’s article about neuromarketing, by the way. What I found really interesting is the way he kept emphasising the potential hazards of the technology in corporate hands and the abuses likely to result from unregulated use of these methods. All true, but he fails to mention that the worst abuses of such technologies result when they are used and regulated by the state.

    Neither big business nor big government is your friend. They are too incestuously intertwined. Just wait until the global plutocracy really gets rolling.

    You ain’t seen nothin’ yet…

    Xanthippa says:
    The technology I was referring to with respect to brain waves was fMRI. Not exactly surreptitious – yet (as far as WE know), but give it time.

    And as for its use, corporate vs. government: with the current government ‘investments’ into ‘big business’ (especially ‘businesses too big to let fail’), that line is getting more and more blurred each day. If you thing the abuse by either of these has a devastating potential, please, consider that the current ‘bailouts’ are a major step in uniting these two into one entity!

    I’m going to go make a tinfoil hat now, thank you!

  4. CodeSlinger Says:


    fMRI detects differences in blood oxygen concentration. It can tell which parts of the brain are working and which parts are resting. The minimum resolvable time scale is on the order of a second, while the spatial resolution is about a millimeter. EEG, on the other hand, can tell which of the concurrently active parts of the brain are talking to each other. Its time resolution is about ten milliseconds, but its spatial resolution doesn’t get much better than a centimeter.

    So for the moment, fMRI is too slow, and EEG is too blurry to read thoughts. However, technologies with the spatial resolution of fMRI and the time resolution of EEG are on the horizon. And that’s when it gets scary, because I’ve already seen results of EEG studies that can distinguish patterns of neural activation corresponding to verbs from those corresponding to nouns. And can further distinguish concrete nouns from abstract nouns. Given a factor of ten improvement in spatial resolution it would be easy to extend these techniques to distinguish which verb and which noun…

    And yes, the bailouts are an excellent example of what I mean by “incestuously intertwined.”

    But I think I should shut up for a while and let others post. Seems like I’m dominating your blog today…

    • Hue Says:

      rashmi, you wrote: Of course, I am watiing for NeuroDesign someone to design software based on reactions to the system in the fMRi. While fMRI has certainly captured the attention of researchers in neuroeconomics and neuromarketing, its expense and lack of mobility present major problems in adapting it for uses like you describe. One alternative could be optical methods (e.g., NIR) which are cheaper and portable. Matter of fact, I believe there is a researcher out of Duke who is looking to adapt optical methods used for intraoperative brain monitoring to applications like you describe.

  5. Holus Says:

    Part of what we strive to do at H+ is just what our name says: humanize technology.

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