Ethical Challenges in the Internet of Bodies

lIn the wake of the brutal pandemic, preventive and predictive health care has rightly become the norm. Healthcare systems have undergone a complete overhaul in recent years, shifting the focus from illness to wellness. In a highly connected world, with the ubiquity of affordable wearable devices and the Internet, individuals are increasingly aware of the control they can exert over their own physical and mental well-being.

The concept of the Internet of Bodies (IoB) may cause more fear than a willingness to adopt. However, most people are not aware that they are already part of this ecosystem, a network of devices that connect an individual to technology that can collect personal information or alter physical functions. IoB devices can be invasive, that is, implantable, injectable or absorbable, or non-invasive, such as wearable devices. They are not always used to provide health or medical benefits, but may simply be for convenience at work, allowing access to buildings, facilities, and so on.

IoB devices enable efficient clinical decision support systems, lifestyle medicine and lower health care expenditures. Where health care providers can identify a cause for concern with a simple push notification indicating patient issues, and then resolve the situation by prescribing medication, they can avoid emergency room admissions. The large-scale collection of health data through IoB devices can help identify health trends across wider demographics and geographies and improve public health.

Bagmisikha Puhan, TMT Law Practice, Fintech is the future of inclusive finance
Bagmisikha Puhan
Associated partner
TMT Law Practice

For body-built IoB devices with brain-computer interfaces, brain signals can be converted into physical movement to improve the quality of life of people with other disabilities.

The convergence of healthcare and technology raises questions about the legal and ethical implications of using and potentially misusing connected people and systems. With increasing awareness of privacy rights, the amount of data that will be generated, processed and retained in the provision of such services raises questions about the effectiveness of data protection laws. Privacy issues also raise ethical concerns about how the sanctity of the person, an individual’s rights over their own bodies, can be supplanted in situations such as parents caring for children and insurers when processing claims. It is currently impossible to foresee all such cases, but none of the concerns can be summarily dismissed.

As with any new technology that uses artificial intelligence and machine learning, this ecosystem faces competing interests. However, it is essential that those using IoB devices are fully informed about their shortcomings and their advantages. A patient should be advised that a pacemaker, which has an external trigger, can have catastrophic consequences if tampered with.

Siddhant Gupta, TMT Law Practice, Fintech is the future of inclusive finance
Siddhant Gupta
TMT Law Practice

Changing times have already led to changing law enforcement procedures. Ohio Police in the US relied on a person’s heart rate data recovered from their pacemaker to charge them with arson and insurance fraud. It’s unimaginable to think that law enforcement agencies could get a warrant to investigate women who track their menstrual cycles through apps on smart devices, especially with the anti-abortion rights movement in some US states.

IoB devices have the potential to extend healthcare beyond hospitals and clinics and into everyday life, as well as cause actual bodily harm. This complex interface requires urgent regulatory attention to adopt standards for hardware, software, manufacturing and production, and to provide adequate information and guidance to end-users on use cases, hazards and benefits. Increasingly automated and synchronous and asynchronous remote healthcare delivery to consumers is revolutionizing the way we all, as recipients and healthcare providers, work with, adopt and adapt to these solutions. Uncontrolled sector growth is not the best result and will intervene strongly at an early stage. Imagination is a good servant, but a bad master; the simplest approach to a complex problem always has the best chance of success.

Bagmisikha Puhan is an associate partner and Siddhant Gupta is an associate at TMT Law Practice.

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