Censor Sensibility?

May 26, 2003
Almost daily reminders about national security have reached a new level—safeguarding information on American technology by keeping more of it secret. Over 20 scientific journals have agreed to censor articles they believe could compromise...

Almost daily reminders about national security have reached a new level—safeguarding information on American technology by keeping more of it secret. Over 20 scientific journals have agreed to censor articles they believe could compromise national security. These include The Proceedings of the National Academies of Science and Nature and the journals of the American Society of Microbiology. The IEEE, meanwhile, is now giving closer scrutiny to the thousands of articles it publishes through its society magazines, journals, newsletters, and transactions. This even takes into account the publication of unclassified material.

Following meetings at the U.S. State Department to "clarify our role," IEEE publishing executives developed a reference document to help guide its staff and volunteer authors on "compliance issues" for IEEE publications. Specifically, the document refers to regulations covered by the U.S. International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) and a U.S. export compliance regulation under review by the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). ITAR primarily controls the export and import of defense items and services, most of which are detailed in the U.S. Munitions List. Information on fundamental research lies outside of ITAR's coverage.

But what qualifies as fundamental research, and whose responsibility is it to ensure that no technical data is disclosed that the federal government wants kept secret? "It's the author's responsibility," says Fran Zappulla, staff director of IEEE Publishing Operations, adding that the awareness of these ITAR and OFAC regulations has become "increasingly important, particularly in terms of their impact on IEEE publications."

All authors submitting material to the IEEE now need clearance to publish in IEEE literature. U.S. national authors (including green-card holders) who work for a U.S.-based organization (regardless of where they're physically located) or who work at the U.S. location of a non-U.S.-based organization must now ensure that ITAR compliance was obtained for anything submitted to the IEEE for publication.

KEEPING THINGS QUIET Additionally, conference organizers are being advised to mention their "new responsibilities" when soliciting technical paper submissions. An informal query by Electronic Design asked several industry companies if any government entity had contacted them about this issue, and if they plan to more closely monitor technical articles they submit for publication or material for presentation at technical conferences. The few responses were very carefully worded, explaining how these companies "would never compromise national security." Analog Devices says that it might amend its internal policy advising writers and presenters to carefully consider security implications in any publicly disclosed material.

What prompted this? Most believe it was a statement issued by the presidents of the National Academies of Science some months ago. It addressed post-Sept. 11 security issues and expressed their concern about the scientific and engineering communities' responsibilities in protecting the U.S. In a follow-up, the National Academies complained that the Bush administration was going too far in its attempt to limit information on technical research and that the administration poorly defined a category it called "sensitive but unclassified." According to the National Academies, "Experience shows that vague criteria of this kind generate deep uncertainties among both scientists and officials responsible for enforcement regulations."

Michael Lightner, vice president of the IEEE Publications, Services and Products Board, says that consistent with its mission of disseminating information on technical topics, the IEEE supports the right of engineers and academicians to exchange ideas. "The IEEE is a highly ethical organization that abides by all applicable laws of the countries in which the IEEE conducts its activities," he says. "We are carefully following the legal restrictions put in place by the U.S. government and will continue to do so. However, unless there is a legal restriction, we will follow our mission of open scientific interchange."

About the Author

Ron Schneiderman

Ron Schneiderman served as the Chief Editor of Wireless Systems Design and Executive Editor of Microwaves & RF. He is also the author of seven books. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to The New York Times,Rolling Stone,and TV Guide.

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