Does Your Brain Have a Right to Privacy?

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Author: Ted Rall

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“I was going to be tied up by my feet and my throat slit and they would have fun watching the blood gush out of me because I was young,” the wife of 28-year-old NYPD “cannibal cop” Gilberto Valle testified at his trial.

After she installed keyboard-tracking software on his laptop, Kathleen Mangan-Valle went on, she found that her husband planned to stuff one of her friends in a suitcase and murder her. Two other women were “going to be raped in front of each other to heighten their fears,” while another would be roasted alive over an open fire.

Planned? Or fantasized?

There’s no evidence that Officer Valle, on trial for conspiracy to kidnap, torture, kill and eat women, ever acted on his voreaphilia, a cannibalism fetish. If convicted, however, he faces up to 20 years in prison.

George Orwell called it “thoughtcrime”: punishing people for their thoughts rather than their actions. The case of the cannibal cop – or, more accurately, the wannabe cannibal cop – is a perfect illustration of why a society can be tempted to try to monitor what goes on in people’s brains, and to sanction citizens whose opinions and fantasies fail to conform to “normalcy.”

Suppose the federal jury lets Officer Valle off the hook. The idea of this guy roaming the streets of Manhattan picturing the women he sees roasting on a spit – one of the staged (ßlink not safe for work) and Photoshopped images he perused online – is, well, the word creepy hardly does it justice.

Voreaphiliacs are rare, but one of the great things about the Internet is that it allows pervs and other weirdoes to find one another. “If you were someone mildly interested in cannibalism 30 years ago, it was really hard to find someone in real space to find common cause with,” Joseph V. DeMarco, ex-chief of the cybercrime unit of the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan, told The New York Times.

“Whereas online, it’s much easier to find those people, and I think when you have these communities forming, validating each other, encouraging each other, it’s not far-fetched to think that some people in that community who otherwise might not be pushed beyond certain lines might be.”

That’s what happened in Germany in 2001, when a man who responded to an online post seeking a victim willing to be killed, slaughtered and eaten got his wish. No one disputes that the 43-year-old Berlin engineer died voluntarily; the cannibal videotaped his chatty – and perfectly happy – prey before finishing him off.

As bizarre and – yes, I’ll say it – disgusting and terrifying as the so-called cannibal cop’s online chats were, I am disturbed by convicting people for actions that they not only never committed, but might never have committed.

And yeah, things – bad things, as in Germany, do really happen sometimes. But as Sartre said, we are all responsible for our actions. Should we go to prison for our fantasy lives? Should we give up our right to cranial privacy to protect ourselves from the exceedingly rare chance that some nut will eat someone?

Take another look at the quote above by Joseph DeMarco. It’s so full of conjecture and speculation: “not far-fetched”…”might”…”might.” Well, anyone mightdo anything, right?

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