New Security Concerns Could Threaten Scientific Research

Threaten Scientific Research
by Brendan Coyne

Aug. 3, 2005 – A change in federal law proposed by the Pentagon may make it harder for scientists here to share information and work with foreign colleagues.

The proposal calls for more stringent security requirements for facilities that use Defense Department funds and work with foreign researchers. Under the "clarifications of existing responsibilities" registered earlier this month, universities, federally-funded research centers and government contractors would automatically lose Pentagon contracts if they fail to impose stronger regulations on foreign researchers with access to unclassified information and technology that the Department regulates as "export-controlled."

Export-controlled information and technology is sensitive enough to require approval before sharing it with non-citizens, but, the journal Science reports, universities have long-operated free from many of the more restrictive export laws. The exemption comes from a Reagen-era White House directive popularly known as the "fundamental research clause."

The clause allows for basic scientific information to be traded outside of export laws by creating different security classifications. Information and technology that remains unclassified but falls under the export-controlled category has been regularly shared by university-based researchers since the issuance of the 1985 directive, according to university biosecurity handbooks and rules.

University researchers are concerned that bringing "fundamental research" back under export rules will make international collaboration prohibitively difficult, Science reported.

According to an Association of American Universities report released in April, contracts are increasingly including language that restricts the use of foreign researchers and prohibits the publication of findings that may be considered controlled for export purposes, but remains unclassified. The report was conducted with the Council on Government relations.

The Department of Defense published the proposed rule change in the Federal Register earlier this month. The public comment period is open until September 12.