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Global research security and integrity: U15 at key conference in the USA

© German U15

© German U15

News from Mar 27, 2024

Research security1 and integrity have become one of the most pressing issues in international scientific cooperation in the face of global geopolitical crises. In times of global armament, protection against the unwanted outflow of knowledge and the misuse of research results is moving centre stage – in almost all scientific fields. Weighing up the risks against the opportunities and concrete benefits of research projects poses particular challenges for researchers as well as research institutions, universities, funding bodies and others.
How do governments, research institutions, intermediary organisations and researchers worldwide protect their research without compromising academic freedom and institutional autonomy? What frameworks, approaches, and specific measures exist, and how are they implemented? These questions were addressed by around 700 participants from 21 countries at the Academic & Security Counter Exploitation Seminar (ASCE Seminar) in Texas, USA, from 5 to 8 March 2024. Organised by the largest American consortium for research security, ASCE, the annual conference has become the most important international platform for exchange on this topic since it was opened up to an international audience in the past two years.

Academic freedom and openness vs. research security?

U15 was there: On a joint panel with colleagues from the Helmholtz Association, the DAAD and the DWIH New York, Dr Friederike Schröder, Deputy Managing Director of U15 and Head of International, brought the German perspective to the discussion – the tension between scientific freedom and openness as the highest principle of international scientific cooperation protected by the German Basic Law on the one hand and the need for measures to ensure research security and integrity on the other. In Germany, this has led to the establishment of a comprehensive approach to sensitising researchers to security-relevant aspects of their work and the development of guidelines for dealing with potential risks.

Wide range of strategies

Key findings: The range of strategies to protect research from unwanted knowledge leaks and misuse is wide and often multimodal. From concrete government guidelines implemented by funding organisations when awarding research funds, as in the USA, to negative lists of sensitive technologies and facilities with risk potential, as in Canada, to national contact points that advise universities and research institutions on their collaborations, as in the Netherlands. In Canada and the Netherlands, but also in the UK, it is noticeable that there is a close exchange between research institutions/universities and the intelligence services, allowing for concrete assessments of security threats. Canada has also launched a programme that funds positions for research security at universities. The EU Commission is working on a due diligence tool, a tracker that enables partner institutions abroad to be analysed in terms of their risks.

All of these are important suggestions for supporting research institutions and universities in Germany in implementing research security while maintaining the principle of openness in international collaborations.

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1According to a definition by the G7 science ministers, research security refers to measures designed to protect research from actors and behaviors that pose "an economic, strategic, and/or national and international security risk." It concerns the risks of improper influence, impairment, or unlawful use of research, as well as the direct theft of ideas, research findings, and intellectual property by states, the military, and non-state actors, and activities of organized crime that negatively impact national security.

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