Indian court allows brain scan into evidence
India has set a worldwide precedent with the recent conviction of Aditi Sharma, who was charged with the murder of her former fiance Udit Bharati, based upon EEG brain scans that supposedly show she possessed first-hand memories of his murder.
For years, scientists have peered into the brain and sought to identify deception. They have shot infrared beams through liars' heads, placed them in giant magnetic resonance imaging machines and used scanners to track their eyeballs. Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the United States has plowed money into brain-based lie detection in the hope of producing more fruitful counterterrorism investigations.
The technologies, generally regarded as promising but unproved, have yet to be widely accepted as evidence — except in India, where in recent years judges have begun to admit brain scans. But it was only in June, in a murder case in Pune, in Maharashtra State, that a judge explicitly cited a scan as proof that the suspect's brain held "experiential knowledge" about the crime that only the killer could possess, sentencing her to life in prison.
Psychologists and neuroscientists have been researching advanced lie detection techniques for decades, hoping to advance beyond the polygraph test. In North America, brain-based evidence has not been wholly allowed as evidence towards a verdict, but may be considered during sentencing to assess the mental stability of the convict.
EEG (electroencephalography) detects changes in brain waves, and in Sharma's case this provided "proof" that she had first-hand memories of Bharati's murder as opposed to second-hand knowledge of the details.
The case in India is under fire because the method has neither been peer-reviewed nor independently tested.
The software tries to detect whether, when the crime’s details are recited, the brain lights up in specific regions — the areas that, according to the technology’s inventors, show measurable changes when experiences are relived, their smells and sounds summoned back to consciousness. The inventors of the technology claim the system can distinguish between people’s memories of events they witnessed and between deeds they committed.
The Brain Electrical Oscillations Signature test, or BEOS, was developed by Champadi Raman Mukundan, a neuroscientist who formerly ran the clinical psychology department of the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences in Bangalore. His system builds on methods developed at American universities by other scientists, including Emanuel Donchin, Lawrence A. Farwell and J. Peter Rosenfeld.
Not only are the merits of this particular development being called into question, but ethics remains a standing issue as well. While defendants in India must consent to the procedure, it is suspected that many agree to it simply because they think it will spare them police interrogation.
The implications of such a technology are wide reaching; not only would a true lie detector test change the nature of the judicial system, but it would also eliminate the need for harsh interrogation or torturous practices.
Can we suppose that we know enough about the intricacies of the human brain to allow this type of information to pass as evidence?