Something has changed, but what? Outgoing Minister Robbert Dijkgraaf actually wanted to put a knowledge security bill online before the summer holidays, so everyone could offer feedback on it. This ‘internet consultation’ has been somewhat delayed.

Politicians are concerned about knowledge espionage at universities in particular, which attract many foreign students and researchers. We have been naive and need to clear out the attic, Dijkgraaf said two years ago

Process

One of the measures: there will be screening of non-European scientists who want to come here, but what will that screening look like? There is quite a difference between, for example, nuclear physics and medieval history. should everyone be subjected to the same process?

On top of that, Dijkgraaf certainly does not want to stifle international cooperation. The Minister is aiming for a clear definition of ‘sensitive knowledge and technology’ and wants to carefully determine which students and researchers belong to the ‘target group’ and how the screening can remain feasible. This has proven a challenge: last October, he wrote that he needed a little more time.

Recent developments

The Minister is now discussing ‘recent developments on these three elements’, which again lead him to conclude that the bill cannot yet go online. This is all he has said about it so far, so the changes can only be speculated on.

Could it be related to the arrival of a new government? The agreement of the next coalition led by the PVV political party includes a harsh cut in the funds for academic research. This may affect the willingness and resources of universities to participate in the policy.

Moreover, the coalition parties want to cut back the number of civil servants by a fifth, so who will do the screening? The coalition will shift extra funding to the police, the justice system and security services.

Or perhaps delineating ‘sensitive knowledge and technology’ is not an easy task. The rise of artificial intelligence, such as ChatGPT and other generative AI, is moving rather fast. This involves both linguists and IT professionals: who exactly should be screened?

Translation

 Once the sensitive knowledge has been outlined, the translation to “programmes, departments, project groups, student projects and, for example, certain teams and laboratories will follow”, he wrote earlier.

Again, that is easier said than done, although some issues have already been resolved. In previous letters to the House of Representatives, for example, the Minister let it be known that he wants to keep bachelor students out of the screening process. This means higher professional education will for the most part not be covered by the policy. He also wants to leave current researchers and students alone. If we were to start screening them retroactively, this would result in issues related to legal certainty, he believes.

Criticism

The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, a society of top scientists of which Dijkgraaf was once president, previously voiced strong criticism. Nationwide screening would be disproportionate; the government should rely more on the considerations within academia itself.

“I understand that screening is only practical if we can pinpoint very precisely where the sensitivities are”, the Minister replied to that criticism. However, the screening will be introduced regardless. “The interest of the individual and open and free science is weighed against the interest of national security. This is eminently a task of the state.”

 

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