Bioethics Blogs

Is access to our phones a step toward the police wanting access to our minds?

Of one mind. iPhone by Shutterstock

We use our smartphones so much these days, it almost feels like they have become extensions of ourselves, boosting our capacity to calculate and remember. What might come of this closer union of human and technological device? If police can serve a warrant to search your phone, and we see these devices as extensions of ourselves, how long until investigators one day serve a warrant to search your mind?

This line of thinking was roused by the FBI’s legal efforts to force Apple to help them access an iPhone that belonged to a suspected terrorist – something Apple says would undermine the security of its products. This is one of several similar cases, and part of a larger effort by the FBI and intelligence agencies, to ensure they can access a variety of now common devices.

An extended mind?

Philosopher Matthew Noah Smith recently argued that the way we use smartphones to store information such as photos, shopping lists, passwords and messages can be seen as an expansion of our own memory, allowing us to improve our storage and recall. Further still, he argues that they could be considered as extending our minds, drawing on the extended mind thesis first put forward by Andy Clarke and David Chalmers.

Like the abacus 2,500 years ago or the pilot’s flight deck controls and gauges today, smartphones allow us to think in ways that we could not otherwise manage. Not only are such technologies integral to maintaining our digital online identity and life offline, they are central to the emergence of “the networked self” – the idea that by simultaneously connecting to many online resources, which in turn enable use to connect to others, we are no longer restricted to the “here and now”.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.