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Statement on Freedom of Communications for Basic Research

Adopted by the Biophysical Society Executive Council on February 17, 2004

Concerns about terrorism and weapons of mass destruction have stimulated public interest in new restrictions on so-called “sensitive but unclassified” scientific information.

Free communication of scientific information is essential to the health of science and technology upon which both national security and the economic well-being of the United States depend. The U.S. government has the duty and authority to classify the communication of information bearing a particularly close relationship to national security. Our current system for classifying, safeguarding, and declassifying such information (updated through Executive Order 13292, March 25, 2003) provides a precise set of categories of protected information, and further specifies that basic scientific information not clearly related to national security may not be classified.

U.S. policy in this area has since 1985 been based upon the sound principle that “No restrictions may be placed upon the conduct or reporting of federally-funded fundamental research that has not received national security classification except as provided in applicable U.S. statutes.”*

The Biophysical Society, through its elected Council, unanimously reaffirms its support for the principle of the unfettered communication of knowledge obtained through basic research. Where security considerations require control, the appropriate mechanism for such control is prior classification, and not, for example, classification imposed through pre-publication reviews after the research is completed. Specifically, the Society firmly opposes the establishment of an alternative (and potentially competitive) class of “sensitive but unclassified” information for security purposes. We also oppose the imposition of “sensitive but “unclassified” restrictions based upon the medium in which the information is stored or distributed. Instead, as required, classification should be implemented through well-defined, content-based procedures, with opportunities for appeal and provisions for eventual, timely declassification. Within the context of this system, scientists bear a unique responsibility to help identify and define critical knowledge that may be central to our national security and thereby require protection, to minimize the risks and maximize the benefits of the unfettered communication of knowledge.

*NSDD-189 (September 21, 1985). Support for this directive was reaffirmed in a letter from National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice to Dr. Harold Brown, dated November 1, 2001, and in a memorandum from Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham to Heads of Department Elements, dated May 12, 2003.

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