Australia's New Controls On Sensitive Research Likely To Drive Academics Overseas

from the unintended-consequences dept

Australia’s Defence Trade Control Act is meant to stop sensitive military research falling into the “wrong hands”. Fair enough — nobody wants potentially dangerous technology being mis-used. But according to this report on Defence News, it seems that rushed drafting and limited scrutiny has led to some serious unintended consequences (via The Register):

this new set of guidelines can also make something as seemingly innocent as a university academic sharing an unrelated email with a fellow academic, who happens to be overseas, punishable by ten years in prison or a AUD 425,000 (GBP 221,700) fine and forfeiture of work.

The key problem seems to be that there is no exception for academics, as is the case for similar laws in the US and UK. Here’s what that is likely to mean in practice:

university researchers would need prior permission from a Minister at the Department of Defence (DoD) to communicate new research to foreign nationals or to publish in any research journals. The logistics, not to mention the time, needed to obtain such permissions without any guarantee they might be granted will probably mean a very large number of students and professors choosing not to undertake research projects.

The article details other problems with the Act, including its very broad nature, and the fact that you need to be a lawyer to understand its details. It notes one all-too-predictable consequence of this over-cautious approach:

Many will realise the opportunities abroad and take their innovative research elsewhere.

Maybe skimping on the legislation’s scrutiny was not such a good idea after all.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or, and +glynmoody on Google+

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Comments on “Australia's New Controls On Sensitive Research Likely To Drive Academics Overseas”

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Ninja (profile) says:

Well, considering Australia tries to murder you at every turn via poisonous animals, climate and unknown sources I’d say that the only ones that are actually losing something are the biologists studying said murderous wildlife. The rest of the academics are probably saner and already doing their magic in less murderous places. /jokemarkerjustincase

eye sea ewe says:

Re: Are you some sort of pussy

Australia is the best most pleasant place on Earth. Fantastic fauna, magnificent flora, best beaches and climate in the world. There is nowhere else that even comes close. I grew up with cyclones and droughts, taipans and death adders, funnel web spiders and redbacks, stonefish and demon fish, great white sharks and sea snakes, dingoes and cane toads. Walk through a tropical rainforest just after a thunder storm, smell the eucalypts and see the jacarandas in blossom. Watch the emus, kangaroos and wallaby’s as they run across and along the highways.

There is no place like it – it truly is home. But even in the best of places you have little things that bug you, the flies at a BBQ, the pollies intruding into our lives and that mob of thieves – the ATO.

These things help you appreciate the beauty and splendour of The Great Southern Land.

A true-blue dinky-di fair dinkum aussie.

JD says:

Ask permission for every little thing

Were I a grad student in AUS with some spare time, I’d set up a side “research” project with someone overseas for the sole purpose of asking permission over and over again.

“I’d like to send this email to a colleague overseas. Is that okay?”

“I need to send them this chart? Is that okay?”

“Here’s some source code I need to share with them. Could you vet it?”

I mean, if they want people to ask permission for stuff, ask permission. Again. And again. And again. Either they’ll see how silly this is and change it, or they’ll start ignorning you — at which point you can tip off the press about the government holding up defense-related research — or it’ll be difficult for them to identify “real” research in the mix, which will get held up (and see previous point about tipping off the press).

If that’s what they want, give it to them. In spades.

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