From this question, it seems quite clear to assume for the purposes of this question that Borg are considered 'living'.

At the beginning of the episode (Descent Part 1, TNG) we see the TNG crew encounter some Borg at an outpost. Data then proceeds to strangle the Borg, the reason being later on because of the negative emotions being channeled to Data by Lore from the emotion chip. I think it is safe to assume that that Borg was killed.

My question is: how was Data able to kill that Borg? He explains quite clearly on multiple occasions (notably in The Most Toys) that the fundamental basis of his programming is that he has a respect for life and therefore cannot kill (although by the end of The Most Toys there is a question raised over whether or not he was going to kill a person). Hence, Data seems to have gone against his fundamental programming. How can this be so? I have envisaged two possible solutions, but I don't claim that these are the only possible solutions:

  1. The Borg are not considered to be 'life forms' by Data, and so he can kill them.

  2. The emotion chip can override Data's fundamental programming. This isn't quite such a silly idea, as what if he got annoyed by a fly and swatted it? (Note that later on when he is on the Holodeck and not receiving input from the emotion chip, he is actually not interacting with a real Borg, meaning he could therefore kill that Borg repeatedly - it's just a computer program. ) The only issue I have with this is that it seems odd for Dr Soong to create a chip that would override Data's fundamental programming, although it would make him more human, or if Lore had tampered with it to have this affect.

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    Also, how do you strangle a being that doesn't breathe (cf First Contact) and probably also doesn't need blood circulation to the brain in the human sense?
    – Raphael
    Commented May 9, 2014 at 9:27
  • 2
    Maybe I'm missing something, but in the same episode that you cite ("The Most Toys"), Data explicitly says that he is programmed to use "deadly force in the course of defense". I understand this to mean that his respect for life takes a back seat to self-preservation or defense of (other) innocent life. Commented May 9, 2014 at 21:45
  • @Raphael true, but if you refer to the quote in Xantec's answer, it is quite clear that Data 1) killed that Borg, and 2) got pleasure out of it. Hence, strangling does appear to be a method of killing Borg (perhaps plot inconsistency) Commented May 10, 2014 at 0:55
  • @MattPeterson good point raised. I think the answer provided by Xantec though is more likely, as the emotion chip was a major factor as we see - he actually got pleasure from killing Commented May 10, 2014 at 0:57
  • I suspect that Data didn't actually strangle the Borg drone, rather he broke his neck.
    – Morgan
    Commented Nov 14, 2019 at 7:54

2 Answers 2


The only answer is that whatever method Lore used to send the emotion of anger to Data in the outpost, at the beginning Descent part I, was also able to disable his ethical program.

As indicated in Descent part II the only way for Data to negatively act upon such emotions is if that program is disabled.

LAFORGE: I think what's happening is that Lore is tapping into the chip he stole from Doctor Soong and somehow he's found a way to transmit part of that emotional programme to Data.
TROI: But the only emotions Data seems to feel are negative.
LAFORGE: Yeah, I'm sure that's intentional. But in order for Data to be affected by those emotions, Lore would have had to disable his ethical programme first.

In Descent part I Data himself says to Crosis that his ethical subroutine defines his sense of right and wrong; it acts as his conscience. Crosis replies that his ethical program must not have been working. At the start of this conversion Crosis activates a device on his arm, which appears to have the same effect on Data: it disables his ethical program and allows Crosis to convince Data that he would kill Geordi to feel emotions (anger) again. The conversation, transcribed below, starts around the 29:54 mark.

CROSIS: You are not like the others. You do not have to be destroyed. You can be assimilated.
DATA: I do not wish to be assimilated.
CROSIS: Resistance is futile. You will not resist what you've wanted all your life. I was like you once. Without feeling. But the One helped me. He can help you too. He can help you find emotion. Have you ever felt a real emotion, Data?
DATA: Yes. On Ohniaka Three, I was forced to kill a Borg. I got angry.
CROSIS: How did it feel to get angry? Did it give you pleasure?
DATA: It would be unethical to take pleasure from another being's death.
CROSIS: You didn't answer my question. Did it feel good to kill?
DATA: Yes.
CROSIS: If it is unethical to take pleasure from another being's death, you must be a very unethical person.
DATA: No. That is not correct. My creator Doctor Soong, gave me a programme which defines my sense of right and wrong. In essence, I have a conscience.
CROSIS: It didn't seem to be functioning on Ohniaka Three when you felt pleasure in killing that Borg.
DATA: Step away from the forcefield. Your proximity is interfering with my scan.
CROSIS: You enjoyed it. That surge of emotion inside you as you watched the life drain from your victim. It was unlike anything you've ever felt before.
DATA: It was a very potent experience.
CROSIS: You'd like to feel that way again.
DATA: Yes.
CROSIS: You'd do anything to feel that way again, even if it meant killing someone.
DATA: No. That would not be ethical.
CROSIS: You don't sound very sure of yourself. Is your ethical programme functioning? Data? Do you have a friend?
DATA: Yes. His name is Geordi.
CROSIS: If it meant that you could feel emotions again the way you did on Ohniaka Three, would you kill your friend? Would you kill Geordi?
DATA: Yes. I would.

Transcripts from Chakoteya.net

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    Sorry, if this is just a "Thank you"-comment. But I think this is the most right answer I ever voted up here. In that dialogue Spiner displays the inner disunity caused by that stray emotions with peak performance. Just love that scene!
    – Einer
    Commented May 9, 2014 at 5:12

It is possible that Data's ethical programme includes an option for killing in self defence if his own life, or the life of others, is under threat. It is hard to see how he could be a Starfleet officier otherwise, since he would be unable to order retaliation for an attack on the ship or protect other members of his crew.

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    A good possibility. Though I would expect him to try to use minimum force to maximum effect to try to stun or disable an opponent rather than killing them. However, after he installs his emotion chip his actions do appear to move toward the other extreme in the movies.
    – Xantec
    Commented May 9, 2014 at 14:10
  • Starfleet officers do not perform "retaliation" for attacks. Commented Sep 29, 2015 at 0:38
  • Starfleet officers will return fire if fired upon and they feel that retaliation is warranted to protect their crew and themselves.
    – user
    Commented Sep 29, 2015 at 7:34

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