Nanotechnology, Privacy and Shifting Social Conventions
MacDonald, Chris, Health Law Review
Nanotechnology promises (or perhaps threatens) to change the way we live. Like other novel technologies, nanotechnology will allow us to do new things, and so will present us with new choices. Importantly, nanotechnology may also influence the very values according to which we will make those new choices. In general, new technologies--even radically new ones--evolve within a more or less stable framework of conventional values, and the apparent novelty of any given technology doesn't automatically warrant skepticism about those values. So new technology doesn't warrant radically new approaches to ethics. (1) But none the less, all technologies--and especially paradigm-bending technologies like nanotechnology--have the ability to shape our values. This warrants careful thought.
The nano-technological application to be explored in this paper is surveillance technology, and the specific values to be discussed are values related to privacy. Privacy, according to Lessig, is to be understood as an ideal that stands in competition with the ideas of monitoring and searching. (2) That is, the less one's life is monitored, and the less one's life is subject to being searched, the more privacy one has.
A number of technologies being developed, or envisioned, within the broad category of nanotechnology have significant implications for the extent to which individuals are subject to monitoring and search. Technologies currently being developed or refined, including "smart dust" (3) and RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tags (4) are already posing challenges to privacy, to say nothing of the challenges that would be posed if we one day see inexpensive video cameras "with the size and aerodynamic characteristics of a mosquito." (5) Further, one of the less controversial predictions about nanotechnology is that it will lead to important breakthroughs in computer technology, breakthroughs that will help computer manufacturers break past what is otherwise expected to be the end of current yearly increases in computing power. (6)
Nanotechnology thus means the potential for significantly increased processing power--the kind of processing power that would make it feasible for individuals, corporations, and governments to process the massive quantities of data that can already be gathered by traditional surveillance equipment such as security cameras. As things stand, we have a certain degree of privacy even when in front of a surveillance camera; without powerful biometric software and …
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Publication information: Article title: Nanotechnology, Privacy and Shifting Social Conventions. Contributors: MacDonald, Chris - Author. Journal title: Health Law Review. Volume: 12. Issue: 3 Publication date: Fall 2004. Page number: 37+. © 2009 Health Law Institute. COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group.
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