Saheli*: Musings and Observations
Monday, February 23, 2004
 
GAH.
Ignoring the First Amendment: Bizarre Homeland Security Issues & Scientific Publishing.


Let me open this up with a quote from the First Amendment, as it hangs above my bed, emblazoned on an American Flag:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press or the right of the people peacably to assemble, and to petittion the governemnt for a redress of grievances.

Okay. Got that? Now read this quote from a 2/19/04 Nature article that was forwarded to me by my sister:

"Iranians struggling to secure free speech at home are
facing a fresh set of restrictions from the US government.

The US Department of the Treasury has ruled that editing or publishing
scientific manuscripts from Iran,
Libya, Sudan and Cuba violates the trade embargo on these countries. And
US publishers and scientific societies are divided over how to respond.

. . . .
Questions about interactions with Iran first arose in 2001 when the IEEE
tried to rent a conference room at a Tehran meeting, and was
told that this would violate the US trade embargo. In ensuing
conversations between the organization and the treasury department's
Office of Foreign Assets Control, it emerged that publishing could also
be restricted. According to a 30 September 2003 letter from the
office, editing content from an author in a restricted country is
"prohibited ... unless specifically licensed."


Excuse me? Excuse me? Editing content is prohibited?
Not just in matters of national security. Not science that has to do with bombs or weapons. No, just anything. Period. Prohibited.

This would appear to violate the First Amendment. It's also really stupid policy. How are you going to offer bright dissident scientists a ticket out if they can't publish here?

Dr. Marc Brodsky at the American Institute of Physics told me that "no one has asked us to comply" yet, so for now it's business as usual there. IEEE apparently took the initiative to ask the treasury department what they were allowed to do. (Click here for IEEE's statement, thanks to Rishi!) As far as I can tell, OFAC hasn't actually gone after other organizations and complained about their publishing scientific work originating in these countires. And according to IEEE's website, they have clarified with OFAC that even under the embargo laws, it is not publishing but editing which can be construed as a violation. But in my even that kind of prohition is a violation of the First Amendment.

Even if this policy isn't being implemented in any real way by G-men, this quote from the Nature article:

"At a meeting in Washington on 9 February, David Mills, the treasury
official in charge of implementing the policy, told
representatives of 30 publishers that anyone wanting to publish papers
from Iran should seek a licence from the treasury
department. He also suggested that US scientists collaborating with
Iranians could be prosecuted."

is disturbing in its reflection of this administration's attitude towards science and foreign policy. Publishers shouldn't be in the business of asking for licenses.

Seattle Times article on the issue.
 


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Saheli Datta started this when she was a journalism student at Columbia in New York. Now she lives in the Bay Area. *Old people call me R. New people, call me Saheli. Thanks! My homepage. Specifically, my links. Email me: Saheli [AT] Gmail [dot] Com

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