President’s advisers to consider export controls on nanotech

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Feb. 3, 2005 — A panel that advises President Bush on export issues will explore whether nanotechnology needs regulating. The committee, which will be assembled early this year, is expected to review other nations’ nanotechnology capabilities, their competitiveness and nanotechnology’s impact on national security.

Lawyers who specialize in export law recommend nanotechnology companies follow developments to ensure they comply if regulations eventually are put in place. The scope could range from restrictions on international trade to rules on staffing foreign nationals.

“Any company has an obligation to understand export control,” said Susan Kovarovics, senior counsel at Foley & Lardner LLP in Washington, D.C. “A lot of companies have no idea that they have controlled data.”

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Don Evans, then secretary of the Department of Commerce, requested the study in 2004. The President’s Export Council subcommittee on export administration (PECSEA) is expected to put together a group in early 2005, according to Mark Webber. Webber, special assistant in Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security, serves as the designated federal officer in the subcommittee.

Formation of the committee is likely to take some time, though. PECSEA was in the process of adding members in late 2004, but the sensitive nature of the position requires that candidates undergo security checks. Commerce is also expected to need time to adjust to Evans’ departure as secretary. Carlos Gutierrez, the chief executive of Kellogg Co., was nominated as his successor in December.

Panelists will be expected to produce recommendations but face no deadlines, Webber said. Citizens likely will have opportunities to weigh in on the topic once the panel’s findings go to the President’s Export Committee.

“The conclusions of PECSEA are not final,” Webber said. “It’s an advisory opinion.”

Nanotechnologies that are likely to come under scrutiny include products that could be used to further or counter chemical and biological warfare and other weapons, Kovarovics said. The broad capabilities of nanotechnology could present problems for regulators or their advisers, she said. The challenge will be ensuring national security while avoiding undue regulation.

Organizations such as the NanoBusiness Alliance can take a lead role in educating companies and keeping their leadership informed, she said. “They can raise people’s awareness and start seeing where these things get classified.”

Kovarovics and Webber emphasized that neither the review nor any subsequent action is likely to be done quickly. Webber predicted PECSEA could reach its conclusions by late 2005, but 2006 was a possible scenario. Kovarovics expected the process to take at least a year or two. “This is not an area they are going to rush into,” she said. “They’ll look at all of it and try to see what is realistic.”


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