Universities get Defence tech control laws reprieve

Exemptions for technology researchers from laws that could see them jailed for sending certain information overseas have been extended in parliament.

Australian universities are breathing a sigh of relief after parliament on Wednesday gave them an extra year to work out how to cope with tougher rules on projects involving defence and strategic technologies.

The Defence Trade Control Act was passed in late 2012 by the former Labor government with little fanfare, in a bid to bring regulation that already exists for physical exports, such as weapons proliferation, into the digital world.

It forces some organisations dealing with products like high-end computers, nuclear material, and micro-organisms to apply for permits to continue to do so.

It affects members of universities and research centres who would have faced penalties of up to 10 years in jail for sending information overseas and publishing details of certain technologies.

The intangible "supply" or "publication" of technology listed on the Defence and Strategic Goods List (DSGL), for example, could be considered a criminal offence carrying a AU$250,000 fine or time in jail.

It came about through the signing of the Australia-United States Defence Trade Cooperation Treaty in 2007.

While it was expected that this legislation would simply cover technology used by the Department of Defence, the creation of a "dual-use" category means that a wide array of technological development and research has been caught up by the law.

Some examples of "dual-use" technology are computers, electronics, telecommunications, and information security.

However, in January, it emerged that legislation would likely be rushed through the Australian parliament in the first sitting period of the year in a bid to fix the Defence laws.

On March 18, exemptions for researchers and businesses that were initially granted for two years were extended in parliament for a further year.

Universities Australia said that is necessary to develop a practical compliance process.

With AAP

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