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.

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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 20 Jan 2015 @ 11:27pm

    So for those that can afford to shift their research, they move out of the country. For those that cannot, they simply stop any research that might involve interacting with people from other countries(so all of it basically).

    Brilliant. /s

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 21 Jan 2015 @ 1:48am

    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

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      eye sea ewe, 21 Jan 2015 @ 2:10am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Jan 2015 @ 2:26am

    Universities could simply deploy programs like KillDisk on their networks and reguarly wipe anything that might be used as evidence. Problem solved.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Jan 2015 @ 3:27am

    @3 -- The restrictions here aren't limited to defence-funded research. They apply to anything on the "Defence and Strategic Goods List", no matter who funds it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    CharlieBrown, 21 Jan 2015 @ 3:34am

    I'm not surprised

    The current government is cutting corners at every turn, so the fact legislation gets through without being double checked is probably a cost saving measure.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Jan 2015 @ 5:35am

    Governments doing what they do best

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Matthew A. Sawtell, 21 Jan 2015 @ 7:04am

    So... any loopholes identified?

    So... given the joint work with various agencies around the world, from Space Telescopes to Neutrino research, how many loopholes have been embedded into this law, or other laws that will come afterwards?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    JD, 21 Jan 2015 @ 7:11am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Lawrence D’Oliveiro, 21 Jan 2015 @ 12:52pm

    Why Do Academics Need “Exceptions”, Anyway?

    Why should “academics” get to do things that ordinary people cannot do? I thought science was something open to everyone.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 21 Jan 2015 @ 2:13pm

      Re: Why Do Academics Need “Exceptions”, Anyway?

      Don't confuse academics with scientists! They're two different circles, even though they do have some overlap in the Venn diagram.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Kevin Korb, 28 Jan 2015 @ 7:28pm

    DTCB 2015

    What you've quoted is out of date. The current story is better (publication is now possible), but not a lot better. See http://bayesian-intelligence.com/bwb/2015-01/ed2i/

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Kevin Korb, 28 Jan 2015 @ 7:28pm

    DTCB 2015

    What you've quoted is out of date. The current story is better (publication is now possible), but not a lot better. See http://bayesian-intelligence.com/bwb/2015-01/ed2i/

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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