Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Top Secret!

I have a little contract with the Veterans Administration for research within the VA health care system. This required me to spend more than 2 hours yesterday filling out forms including information needed for a background investigation -- just like you do to get a security clearance. I will also have to present myself personally to be fingerprinted.

In case that's not weird enough, today at the faculty meeting we heard a long lecture from the Director of International Research Administration at our university about restrictions on export of technology, which includes information as well as physical objects. That includes weapons technology, but also "dual use" technology which means stuff like computers and software that somebody could conceivably use for military applications. In order to take a laptop computer to a colleague in, say, China, I would need a license from the Commerce Department. But you don't actually have to export the technology -- you can get into big trouble for giving it to a foreign national within the United States, like, say, a visiting professor or a student.

Fines are up to a million dollars, and they can also prosecute you criminally. There are exceptions for basic research, information in the public domain, etc. You can give furriners a scientific journal or software if it's not too expensive. If it's something they might have had trouble paying for, then maybe not. If you teach a course which is listed in a published catalog, then information which is normally taught to graduate students can be taught to foreign nationals.

But still. This physics professor from the University of Tennessee has been sentenced to 4 years in the slammer for sharing information with Chinese colleagues and students. Yeah yeah, it was info from an Air Force contract and it is specifically military technology. Kind of. It's on the borderline between applied and basic science I would say. But still.

Frankly, trying to somehow keep technology and scientific information out of the hands of furriners strikes me as a largely futile, idiotic and counterproductive policy. Not that anything I do can be used to blow stuff up, as far as I know, but you could conceivably apply my software and analytic methods to interrogations or something. I was involved in a proposal to use it in China, which fortunately wasn't funded or I'd probably be looking at hard time by now.

This country is weird.


robin andrea said...

This country is weird... and getting weirder all the time.

C. Corax said...

I'd like to go back in time and unvote for Obama. He's freakin' crazy.

Ferdzy said...

Whaddya mean, you can't give a laptop to a Chinese national? I thought the MADE the damn things.