ICO considers uses of neurotechnology in employment in the UK

31 July 2023 | Applicable law: England and Wales | 2 minute read

A recent report from the ICO, ICO tech futures: neurotechnology shines a spotlight on some of the implications and risks of new neurotechnologies for employers.

Neurotechnology involves the processing of information that is directly produced by the brain and nervous system (neurodata). The ICO's report notes that neurotechnologies have continued to proliferate in the health and research sector over the past decade and may soon become part of our daily life. It suggest that our workplaces, home entertainment and wellbeing services may use neurotechnology to provide more personalised services and it examines the potential impact of neurotechnology and neurodata on data privacy rights.

In the field of employment, the report envisages that the employment sector is likely to make increasing use of non-invasive neurotechnology to measure, record and process a variety of personal information. Employee monitoring is already a contentious area of data processing. Future monitoring could include:

  • Systems that measure electrical activity in the brain, integrated as part of a health and safety or risk management scheme. Safety equipment that measures the attention and focus of an employee could be rolled out in high risk environments.
  • Monitoring with the stated purpose of enhancing and enabling workplace wellness within the office environment. Some wearable neurotechnologies are already in use to help employees and their employers have greater awareness of employee engagement and stress. However, biometric based monitoring technologies, such as gaze and gait tracking, may be perceived as a cheaper, more accurate and easier-to-deploy alternative.
  • Increased use of neurodata recording techniques as part of the recruitment process. This will aid organisations who want to identify people who fit desirable patterns of behaviour or perceived traits, like executive function. The report notes that research that combines biometric measures and organisational psychology has been called by some ‘neuromanagement’.

The report suggests that workplace use of neurotechnology presents numerous risks and challenges. Conclusions drawn from information may derive from contested definitions and analysis of traits, and may embed systemic bias in the processing, potentially discriminating against those who are neurodivergent. Finding an appropriate basis for processing is likely to be complex and organisations will need to consider fairness, transparency and data retention.

This document (and any information accessed through links in this document) is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from any action as a result of the contents of this document.


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