Tight-Lipped Labs

By Woodall, Dave | ASEE Prism, November 2001 | Go to article overview

Tight-Lipped Labs


Woodall, Dave, ASEE Prism


TEACHING TOOLBOX

RESEARCH

FEDERAL REGULATIONS GOVERN MORE OF WHAT WE DISCLOSE TO COLLEAGUES AND STUDENTS

We all know that publication of engineering and computer science research in peer-reviewed journals is the hallmark of a successful academic program. Indeed, every faculty member's career depends on finding the right technical journal for publication of research results. The reputation of an engineering college hinges largely on the regular publication of the work of faculty and students in prestigious technical journals.

However, there is a cloud on the horizon. It is the limitations imposed by federal regulation on the dissemination of some technical information. These restrictions do not just apply to "classified" information but to other categories of information that fall under the guidelines of U.S. Export Control law. The result is that we may not be able to freely discuss our best ideas with all of our colleagues and students. Every engineering faculty member should be aware of these restrictions and conduct his or her research activities within this framework.

The Wen Ho Lee case at Los Alamos has led the U.S. Department of Energy to impose new restrictions on the transfer of technical information to foreign nationals. While the D.O.E. is principally concerned with national security and the release of information related to the design and development of nuclear weapons, these restrictions are being applied much more broadly at the D.O.E. labs. This may lead to a certain amount of dissatisfaction among D.O.E. laboratory employees, who are no longer able to communicate freely, either within the lab or at national technical conferences, any time foreign nationals are present. It also can restrict the ability of our graduate students who are foreign nationals to get access to D.O.E. laboratory programs, such as summer employment and research appointments.

But, you ask, since there is little "classified information" present in the environment of an engineering school that allows for uncontrolled publication of research results in technical journals, what is the issue for us? There are two federal laws that affect our actions regarding technical information: the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), also called "eye-tar," for control of defense technologies, and the Export Administration Regulations for control of "dual use" technologies. "Dual-use" technologies may have both civilian and military applications. Examples include computers, software, and special materials, which are materials that have different physical properties than expected. An example is steel that's much stronger than normal steel, and which might have a defense application.

ITAR was enacted to implement the Arms Export Control Act. These regulations have the purpose of controlling the export of defense articles and defense services to protect the citizens of the country. …

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