Dual-use concerns in research and EU funded projects

Have you ever heard about the term dual-use items?

What is dual-use research referred to?

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) “Dual-use research of concern (DURC) describes research that is intended to provide a clear benefit, but which could easily be misapplied to do harmIt usually refers to work in the life sciences, but the principles are also applicable to other fields including engineering and information technology[1].

These types of concerns, refer to specific outcomes that could cause damage both to humans (regarding health, safety, security) and the environment (nature).

This is something we encounter often in EU funded projects. European Commission requests occasionally, from researchers to carry out scrutiny regarding dual-use concerns as the research evolves. The decision of such requests stems from the nature of the research, the programme and the likelihood of the results to be misused. To this end, the definition of ‘dual-use’ as interpreted by the applicable European legal framework can work as a good guide on identifying the possibility of dual – use items in research.

More specifically, we refer to the ‘Council Regulation (EC) 428/2009 setting up a community regime for the control of exports, transfer, brokering and transit of dual-use items’ or other items for which any document(s) must be submitted throughout research activities. According to this regulation the definition of the dual-use items are “in general, those which can be potentially used for both civil and military purposes[2].

A list of categories of potential dual-use items (including software and technologies) are listed below as they are mentioned in the Regulation:

The possibility of research being misused is something that concerns science constantly and this is because of the consequences this might cause at a societal or ethical level. Either intentionally or unintentionally there is always a possibility that some research results might be used for the wrong reasons or in a wrong way.

Some recommended steps to mitigate the possibility of dual-use concerns in research are:

  1. Identify the potential involvement of dual-use items at an early stage
  2. Grant authorisation/license or obtain other relevant documents that are required in case of dual-use items involvement
  3. Check the national rules governing relevant software or technologies, and contact the national authorities in charge
  4. Identify any implications
  5. Design risk-mitigation strategies

Things might end up more complicated when research requires pilot testings in multiple countries which means that technology and equipment should move around the different sites. In case of identified software or technologies that can be characterised as potential dual-use items, researchers should examine all national procedures and licenses required in the countries involved in the testings.

Although BorderUAS research activities and outcomes exclusively focus on civil applications, the legal team of the project based on the abovementioned Council Regulation to conduct an exhaustive study in order to meet the EC requirements on dual-use concerns in research outcomes of the project.

One of the main objectives of the project is constantly to ensure that BorderUAS research is compliant with all applicable national, European and international dual-use legislation.