Brain-reading technology: A new frontier of surveillance?

While there is ongoing concern over online privacy and data protection in the West, China is running government-backed surveillance projects, including brain-reading technology that detects changes in workers’ emotional states.

On the production line of Hangzhou Zhongheng Electric, workers wear caps to monitor their brainwaves to produce data which management then use to redesign workflow, the company told South China Morning Post.

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WikiTribune wants to explore how a new tool like this, and others like it, expand the definition of surveillance in the 21st century.

Facts central to the story

  • The headwear at Hangzhou Zhongheng is one example of brain-surveillance devices. Other technology is hidden in helmets, for example, which collect data from workers’ brainwaves that are then streamed to artificial intelligence algorithms. They can detect rises in emotions such as anger or anxiety.
  • According to the South China Morning Post, the technology is used all over the world, but China has “applied it on an unprecedented scale in factories, public transport, state-owned companies and the military to increase the competitiveness of its manufacturing industry and to maintain social stability.”

Questions we’re interested in exploring

  • How does it work and does it work?
  • What are the legal, ethical, and privacy issues surrounding this?
  • What is China’s legal position on privacy compared to the rest of the world?
  • What are the potential abuses of power that comes from those who exploit this technology?
  • What are the benefits?
  • Where else in the world, and in which other industries, is this technology being used?
  • What other examples are there of employers using similar devices to monitor their workers?

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