Nanotechnology, Sensors, and Rights to Privacy

Public Affairs Quarterly, Vol. 24, No. 2, pp. 131-153, April 2010

23 Pages Posted: 21 Aug 2010 Last revised: 4 Mar 2014

Alan Rubel

University of Wisconsin, Madison - School of Library and Information Studies; University of Wisconsin, Madison - Program in Legal Studies

Date Written: April 1, 2010

Abstract

A suite of technological advances based on nanotechnology has received substantial attention for its potential to affect privacy. Reports of the National Nanotechnology Initiative have recognized that the societal implications of nanotechnology will include better surveillance and information gathering technologies, and there are a variety of academic and popular publications explaining potential effects of nanotechnology on privacy. My focus in this paper is on the privacy effects of one potential application of nanotechnology, sensors capable of detecting weapons agents or drugs- - "nanosensors" or "sensors" for short. Nanotechnology may make possible small, accurate, and easy-to-use sensors to detect a variety of substances, including chemical, biological, radiological, and explosive agents, as well as drugs. I argue that if sensors fulfill their technological promise, there will be few legal barriers to use and the relevant Constitutional law makes it likely that police sensor use will become pervasive. More importantly, I use the possibility of pervasive sensing to analyze the nature of privacy rights. I set forth the Legitimate Interest Argument, according to which one has no right to privacy regarding information with respect to the state if, and only if (a) the state has a legitimate interest in the information, and (b) the state does not garner the information arbitrarily. On this view, pervasive use would not impinge rights to privacy. Rather, it presents an opportunity to protect privacy rights.

Keywords: privacy, right to privacy, surveillance, Fourth Amendment

Suggested Citation

Rubel, Alan, Nanotechnology, Sensors, and Rights to Privacy (April 1, 2010). Public Affairs Quarterly, Vol. 24, No. 2, pp. 131-153, April 2010 . Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1661971

Alan P. Rubel (Contact Author)

University of Wisconsin, Madison - School of Library and Information Studies ( email )

4217 HC WHite
600 N. Park St.
Madison, WI 53706-1481
United States

University of Wisconsin, Madison - Program in Legal Studies ( email )

4217 HC WHite
600 N. Park St.
Madison, WI 53706-1481
United States

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