Senators to study 'brain fingerprinting'

ATLANTA - A man accused of murder is hooked up to sensors wrapped around his head and shown a crime scene photo.


Scientists monitoring his brain waves can tell instantly whether the suspect was there, providing a glimpse into his memory and potential guilt or innocence.

It might sound like a movie script, but the technology exists. The relatively new method of finding whether specific information is stored in a person's brain has become a factor in some court cases and will be studied by a legislative committee.

Lawmakers gave final approval last month to Senate Resolution 593, introduced by former Sen. Jim Whitehead, R-Evans. It calls for a committee of five senators to meet this year and issue a report on the "brain fingerprinting" technology, including whether any new state laws are needed.

Mr. Whitehead said he met during the session with Lawrence Farwell, a former research associate at Harvard University, who invented the technique.

"It actually uses brain waves, as he puts it, as the fingerprint," Mr. Whitehead said. "I think that the figures show that there is some stability there in his studies that could help in ... cases with capital punishment."

Dr. Farwell is now chairman and chief scientist at Seattle-based Brain Fingerprinting Laboratories Inc. He claims his process can detect whether specific information or details are stored in a person's brain. He checks P300 responses, an involuntary reaction that happens within 300 milliseconds, making it difficult to cheat.

The electric charge peaks if a person recognizes what he is looking at, a photo of a murder weapon, for example.

Several Georgia prosecutors said brain-activity exams have become more common.

Augusta Judicial Circuit District Attorney Danny Craig recalled extensive testimony three years ago about three-dimensional brain scans of Reinaldo Rivera, accused of raping and killing four women. Defense attorneys tried to compare his function with "normal" brain activity to explain his actions.

Mr. Craig disagreed with how those tests were administered, but said that does not mean technology such as brain fingerprinting should not be pursued.

"We have to continue to try to develop science to the point of reliability," Mr. Craig said, adding that the tests can be useful during investigations even though their results are inadmissible in court.