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Nanotechnology surveillance & privacy: an interview

Earth & Sky interviewed yours truly on the topic of nanotechnology surveillance and nanoprivacy. It looks as though there are both a transcript and a couple of podcasts (1, 2). Excerpts:

Nanotechnology will produce new sensors that can analyze chemical signals in our environment. And of course, we as individuals send off chemical signals that could be detected by these sensors…

And so, these privacy issues really come up completely apart from nanotechnology. We as a society need to think about how we want these collections of information to be handled and how it can be used. Who is collecting the information? Is it kept? Is it something that can be used in court? Is it something that can be used by insurance companies, etc.? It’s not really a nanotechnology issue, though nanotechnology will bring these privacy issues to the forefront. But I think it’s important to realize that society has to grapple with them very soon in any case.

The important thing to realize, both in the case of video information and chemical information collected by nanotechnology, is that while initially these collections are expensive, and are done primarily by government and by big business, longer term, these types of tools, we’re seeing it now with video cameras, will be in the hands of individuals.

So, when we think of policy options, we need to think about information being in the hands of huge numbers of individuals and how do we want that information handled.

Your input welcome! It’s a difficult issue. —Christine

4 Responses to “Nanotechnology surveillance & privacy: an interview”

  1. jvangils Says:

    It is very nice that you have a feeling for what we call the international system of law. Because when you look at the issues around nanotechnology the most talk that the human is only a biochemical/ technical being. In the circles of transhumanism there is little place for the feeling of rights. Popper spoke about 3 levels of mankind. The physical, emotional en intellectual. Related to these three levels of a human being there are three levels in society, the economical, the system of law en the culture/ education/ art/ space of freedom.
    When we look to the problem of the nanotechnology we should think in these three levels. This is from the beginning important to tackle this question.

  2. Watching Says:

    There will come a point when these tools pass themselves from the government and big business to the hands of individuals, and divisions of crime fighting and prevention, and justice will multiply. Voting polls will fill to the brim with individuals choosing whether or not they feel that their right to privacy is being violated by others analyzing their emitted chemical substances. The majority of these votes will likely come six months to a year after this technology is passed to the hands of the public, and few long before.

  3. Eric Tulloch Says:

    I read the transcript of the interview. Your comment about transparency was spot on. However, it seems that as our “privacy” disappears, many of us develop a self-deception to match. Or other issues could surface: a woman could have a sensor suite that detects the DNA of another woman on her husband’s clothes/skin. But is this necessarily evidence of unfaithfulness? I can envision someone spraying a wealthy businessman, a powerful politician, or the head pastor of a megachurch with the “essence” of a woman (or a man, as the case may be…) to serve as blackmail material.
    On a related note, I can envision that it will take an incredible amount of work to eliminate false positives in such sensors–we’ll first need to understand what molecules and particles are floating around willy-nilly before we can begin to use such information as legal evidence. For example–did a child whose parents indulge in illegal substances merely catch some second-hand smoke, or did he actually participate (referring to your school example from the interview). Could that then be used as evidence of “environmental child abuse”?
    And although much is being developed to render our world and our lives more transparent, there are always going to be advancements to create opacity, if not in general, at least in some areas.

  4. Surveillance Expo Says:

    This type of nanotechnology being used by individuals will leave noone with any privacy. Nanoprivacy laws may be required to prevent everyone from becoming too paranoid as other commentors have mentioned. Image a paranoid wife (or husband) detecting another mans (or womans) chemical signal on their spouse and using it as grounds for divorce etc. It may just have been someone they brushed up against in the lift or sat next to on the bus.

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