[ISN] UK bill would "infringe scientists' freedom"

From: InfoSec News (isnat_private)
Date: Mon Feb 25 2002 - 23:15:45 PST

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    http://www.newscientist.com/news/print.jsp?id=ns99991944
     
    UK bill would "infringe scientists' freedom" 
    14:30 18 February 02
    Duncan Graham-Rowe and Will Knight
     
    British scientists could soon face a ten-year jail sentence for sending an
    email or failing to ask for permission before teaching a foreign student.
    
    New legislation, which will be reviewed by UK House of Lords in March,
    would even give the government the right to "prior review" of scientific
    papers - effectively allowing ministers to censor academic research if
    they so choose. 
    
    "It potentially affects every type of science and technology and a fair
    amount of medicine too," says Ross Anderson, computer scientist at
    Cambridge University and cofounder of the Foundation for Information
    Policy Research. 
    
    The Export Control Bill is designed to curb the spread of scientific
    knowledge on how to make weapons of mass destruction. It is being touted
    as a modernisation of existing controls, following a UK government report
    in 1996 that found British intelligence had been illegally selling weapons
    to Iraq. 
    
    Journal threat
    
    For decades, controls have existed on the transfer of physical goods on
    the "dual-use" list - a list, recognised by the international community,
    of technologies that could have both civilian and military uses. 
    
    These controls have allowed scientists to carry out research with relative
    freedom, provided they do not try to physically carry it overseas. 
    
    But the new powers will extend these controls to apply to "intangibles",
    such as software, emails, designs and presentation slides. This will
    subject much more scientific activity to controls, says Nicholas Bohm, a
    member of the Law Society's electronic law committee. 
    
    Even more worrying is that the bill covers internal communications within
    the UK - not just "exported" communications. Anyone submitting their
    research for publication in a British journal could be subjected to the
    controls. This, say critics, could prevent scientists from assessing and
    replicating their colleagues' work, and threatens to undermine the very
    fabric of the scientific process. 
    
    "The problem of the dual list is that it contains anything that the MOD
    thinks is high-tech," explains Anderson. This can include anything from
    semiconductor testing equipment and hard composites to certain types of
    catalyst, he says. It would also include types of software that many
    researchers have posted on their websites, such as cryptoanalytic or
    code-breaking programmes. Such postings could become illegal overnight. 
    
    Fundamental freedom
    
    The Department of Trade and Industry, which drafted the bill, say the
    exemptions will be brought in to protect academic interests as secondary
    legislation, after the bill has passed. But such reassurances are little
    comfort, since secondary legislation cannot be amended once it has been
    drafted by ministers. 
    
    Universities UK, which represents the heads of British Universities, is
    concerned that the Bill could have dire consequences for collaborative
    research, both within the UK and overseas. 
    
    "We believe that there should be some direct reference to the protection
    of routine academic activity in the text of the bill," a spokesman for
    Universities UK told New Scientist. The potential power to give government
    the right to prior review of scientific publications could infringe
    scientists' fundamental academic freedom, he adds. 
    
    The DTI claim that the bill will merely bring the UK into line with
    European regulations, introduced in 2000, which extend export controls to
    include intangibles. "But the UK was a prime mover in pushing for these
    extensions in the first place," says Bohm. "The European regulations don't
    require the UK to impose domestic transfer or publications controls." 
     
    14:30 18 February 02
     
     Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
    
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