Prison terms and huge fines aren’t what Duke researchers expect when they share their information and technology, which they do routinely with peers elsewhere. A new campus office will help researchers and others avoid such penalties while also protecting Duke’s multi-million dollar federal research budget.
The new export controls office, part of Duke’s Office of Research Support, will steer university and medical school faculty and students clear of inadvertently exporting materials the federal government has deemed to be potential security threats – everything from lasers to cattle prods that can be used for torturing.
Mark Stomski, who directs the new office, has begun meeting with Duke employees and building a website to help faculty and students learn about federal guidelines that govern the sharing of such materials. Stomski said the federal guidelines aren’t new but universities had interpreted them to provide a blanket exemption from export controls. The federal government has toughened its enforcement of export rules since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Based on a congressional report that identified potential security risks involving universities, the guidelines affect technology that faculty and students may take abroad and how foreign nationals may work in university laboratories. In some cases, Duke researchers will need a license to share information and technology even within the United States. Sharing data with a foreign national in the U.S. is legally the same as exporting the data to that person’s home country. Canada has the fewest export restrictions while Cuba, North Korea, Syria, and Iran have the most obstacles, Stomski said.
“Be aware of who you are providing technical data to,” Stomski said, “and understand that the dissemination of information may be controlled for export purposes.”
International Travel Policy
A new international travel policy at Duke helps faculty and staff understand rules concerning export controls and other issues related to study abroad. For more about the new policy, click here.
Researchers at Duke risk a violation when they share certain information or technology with people who are not U.S. citizens or permanent U.S. residents. They also need to take care when sharing with entities not based in the United States, even if the person they speak with at that company or institution is an American citizen. In addition, a researcher’s own organization – in this case Duke – may be responsible if a recipient “re-exports” certain material to a third country, regardless of whether it does so through a subsidiary or some other party, Stomski said.
The rules encompass a wide range of information and technology, including global positioning tools, sensors, military items and endangered species. Handcuffs are also on the list, as is data related to viruses and other kinds of medical information.
“There’s a false perception that only select agents are export controlled,” Stomski said. “In reality, several biological, chemical, and toxicological agents are controlled, as is the information on how to detect, protect, treat or modify these agents.”
In 2004, a former Texas Tech University professor who started a bioterrorism scare when he reported plague bacteria missing was sentenced by a federal court to two years in prison. Similarly, export violations can result in stiff penalties for institutions, causing the cancellation of contracts with agencies such as the National Institutes of Health and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
The federal rules do provide an exemption for universities to pursue “fundamental research,” but Stomski said Duke and other universities need to take care in determining when this exemption applies. He urged faculty and students to contact him whenever they have a question.
“Following the arrest of some university professors, a lot of universities are paying a lot more attention to this,” he said.
Written by Steve Hartsoe. Originally published on the Duke Today website