The Sensitivity of Neuroimaging Data
When new methods of generating information about individuals leave the confined space of research application the possibility of morally dubious application arises. The current propagation of neuroscientific diagnostics leads to new possibilities of misuse and accordingly new needs for the protection of individual privacy emerge. While most current privacy discussion focuses on sensationalist applications which aim/claim to gather information about psychological traits or even the content of thoughts, the more sober but much more realistic endeavour to gather health data from research or medical imaging studies is widely neglected. I will try to answer the question if and in how far data from neuroscientific imaging technologies require special protection. Two developments form the background of the ethical discussion: the increased diagnostic power of neuroimaging techniques and the wider distribution of this technology beyond specialized medical offices and clinics. The first development is likely to broaden the scope of data, which are considered relevant for health care and related decisions. The latter is likely to widen the scope of persons who might have access to diagnostic results without at the time taking the role of a doctor towards the person diagnosed. I will argue that neuroimaging data are currently primarily medical data and that the associated standards of consent and confidentiality are worth protecting. Even nonmedical applications of neuroimaging technology inherit too much of the diagnostic power for which they were originally invented, for it to be advisable to drop the accompanying consent and confidentiality requirements.