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JASON Urges Caution in Adding New Research Security Controls

MAR 26, 2024
NSF commissioned the report to inform new restrictions on sensitive research.
Jacob Taylor headshot
Senior Editor for Science Policy, FYI American Institute of Physics
Stock image of a padlock.

Stock image of a padlock.

(AIP)

A new report from JASON, an elite science advisory panel, argues against placing broad controls on areas of fundamental research viewed as sensitive, instead proposing a project-by-project risk mitigation process. The report was commissioned by the National Science Foundation as it prepares to implement new controls on sensitive research in response to provisions in the CHIPS and Science Act.

JASON reaffirms a Reagan-era- presidential policy that holds that products of fundamental research should generally be unrestricted unless they are deemed sensitive enough to warrant being classified. However, JASON does conclude that changes in the global environment since then warrant new approaches to research security, noting for instance that cutting-edge military technology increasingly originates in the civilian sector instead of the inverse.

It also raises concern that stances taken by the Chinese government are undercutting the premise behind international collaboration, writing, “International collaborations with those who share the ideals of openness and transparency benefit all participants. However, recent efforts of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to preferentially direct fundamental research toward military needs, and its decision to restrict the flow of information out of the country, may severely limit the benefits of collaborations with research organizations within the PRC.”

JASON suggests that instead of trying to designate specific sub-fields as sensitive, NSF should work with PIs and stakeholder institutions to tailor security requirements to specific projects deemed sensitive before they enter the peer- or panel-review phase.

NSF has stated it is reviewing the recommendations and intends to implement a new security review process by the May 24 deadline set by the CHIPS and Science Act.

This news brief originally appeared in FYI’s newsletter for the week of March 25.

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