SECRECY NEWS
from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2002, Issue No. 55
June 19, 2002

SECRECY AND BIOTECHNOLOGY

Questions of whether and how to limit publication of scientific research that might lend itself to malicious purposes continue to roil the waters in the post-September 11 security environment.

New techniques to genetically engineer viruses so as to dramatically increase their lethality are already in hand. At what point, if any, should restrictions on such developments be imposed? What are the responsibilities of government, and of scientists themselves?

These are not altogether new issues. Francis Bacon broached the matter in his utopian essay "The New Atlantis" (paragraph 87), published in 1626:

"And this we do also: we have consultations, which of the inventions and experiences which we have discovered shall be published, and which not; and take all an oath of secrecy for the concealing of those which we think fit to keep secret; though some of those we do reveal sometime to the State, and some not." See:

But the problem assumes greater salience today as the consequences of potential abuses increase with advances in technology, especially in the life sciences.

Aspects of the current debate are reported this week in "Speak No Evil: Should biologists publish work that could be misused?" by Nell Boyce in the June 24 issue of U.S. News and World Report:

See also "Biotech Loses Its Innocence" by Eric Cohen in the June 24 Weekly Standard:

Related issues are also addressed in "Designer Bugs" by Jon Cohen in the July/August 2002 Atlantic Monthly (not online).

The National Academy of Sciences ad hoc Committee on Research Standards and Practices to Prevent the Destructive Application of Biotechnology will hold its second meeting in Washington on June 24-25.


HOMELAND SECURITY BILL PROPOSED

The Bush Administration yesterday sent to Congress draft legislation to establish a new Department of Homeland Security.

The proposed new Department is described in the President's June 18 message to Congress:

The text of the bill itself is here:

It wouldn't be a Bush Administration initiative if it didn't include new restrictions on public access to official information. And sure enough, section 204 of the draft bill would create a new exemption from the Freedom of Information Act for "information provided voluntarily by non-Federal entities or individuals that relates to infrastructure vulnerabilities or other vulnerabilities to terrorism and is or has been in the possession of the Department."


CODE TALKERS HONORED

The House of Representatives passed legislation yesterday to honor the Sioux "code talkers" who provided secure communications in their language for American forces during World War II. See:

The better known Navajo code talkers were similarly honored last year. A detailed history of the Navajo code talkers was published in the Winter 2001 issue of Prologue, the quarterly of the National Archives and Records Administration. See:

******************************

Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.

To SUBSCRIBE to Secrecy News, send email to [email protected] with this command in the body of the message:
      subscribe secrecy_news [your email address]
To UNSUBSCRIBE, send email to [email protected] with this command in the body of the message:
      unsubscribe secrecy_news [your email address]
OR email your request to [email protected]

Secrecy News is archived at:
      http://www.fas.org/sgp/news/secrecy/index.html