Colorado Bill Aims to Protect Consumer Brain Data

Consumers have grown accustomed to the prospect that their personal data, such as email addresses, social contacts, browsing history and genetic ancestry, are being collected and often resold by the apps and the digital services they use.

With the advent of consumer neurotechnologies, the data being collected is becoming ever more intimate. One headband serves as a personal meditation coach by monitoring the user’s brain activity. Another purports to help treat anxiety and symptoms of depression. Another reads and interprets brain signals while the user scrolls through dating apps, presumably to provide better matches. (“‘Listen to your heart’ is not enough,” the manufacturer says on its website.)

The companies behind such technologies have access to the records of the users’ brain activity — the electrical signals underlying our thoughts, feelings and intentions.

On Wednesday, Governor Jared Polis of Colorado signed a bill that, for the first time in the United States, tries to ensure that such data remains truly private. The new law, which passed by a 61-to-1 vote in the Colorado House and a 34-to-0 vote in the Senate, expands the definition of “sensitive data” in the state’s current personal privacy law to include biological and “neural data” generated by the brain, the spinal cord and the network of nerves that relays messages throughout the body.

“Everything that we are is within our mind,” said Jared Genser, general counsel and co-founder of the Neurorights Foundation, a science group that advocated the bill’s passage. “What we think and feel, and the ability to decode that from the human brain, couldn’t be any more intrusive or personal to us.”

“We are really excited to have an actual bill signed into law that will protect people’s biological and neurological data,” said Representative Cathy Kipp, Democrat of Colorado, who introduced the bill.

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