EU consultation calls for social impact studies on nanotech

By EDRi · January 26, 2005

The European Commission puts nanotechnology high on the political agenda
with its Communication ‘Towards a European strategy for nanotechnology’.
The communication has been discussed at the political level in the
European Council under the Irish and Dutch presidencies during the year
2004, and an on-line open consultation on the communication was held
between August and October 2004 by Nanoforum, the EU sponsored thematic
network on nanotechnology. The Nanoforum received some 750 responses to
the consultation. Half of the respondents came from the research

The consultation concludes that nanotechnology will have a strong impact
on European industry and its citizens within only ten years from now.
Nanotechnology will have its strongest impact on chemistry and materials,
information and communication technologies, healthcare and
security/defence. The participants believe that health, safety and
environmental risks should be integrated early into research and that the
societal impact of nanotechnology needs to be taken into account from an
early stage. An international ‘code of good conduct’ would be welcomed by
the participants.

Nanotechnology as a collective term refers to technological developments
on the nanometer scale, usually 0.1-100nm. The technology is believed to
produce new materials and devices. Nano-scaled devices will bear strong
resemblance to nature’s nano-devices: proteins, DNA, membranes etc. One
fundamental characteristic of nanotechnology is that nano-devices
self-assemble. That is, they build themselves from the bottom up. Critics
have warned for the so-called ‘grey goo’ doom-scenario in which
out-of-control self-replicating nano-robots consume all life on Earth
while building more of themselves.

The Commission consultation report has little to say on privacy and
security related issues. Nanotechnology has the capability of dramatically
improving surveillance devices and producing new weapons, thus leading to
an increase in incentives for private companies to produce security
nanotechnology. Research is being done on swarms of microscopic
nano-robots capable of video and audio surveillance.

Critics of nanotechnology have explored how the development of nano-scale
devices for surveillance, tracking and monitoring may create a society
that functions as a Panopticon, an institutionalised and physical form of

Outcome of the Open Consultation on the European Strategy for
Nanotechnology (December 2004)

EPIC: Privacy Implications of Nanotechnology

Wikipedia: Nanotechnology

The Little Big Down: A Small Introduction to Nano-scale Technologies (June 2004)