May 18, 2004

OFAC Censorship Still in Place

Last month I reported that the Office of Foreign Asset Control of the US Treasury Department had abandoned its position that journals published in the United States could not edit papers submitted by residents of countries with which the United States embargoes trade, currently Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria. I spoke too soon.

Writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required), Peter J. Givler, Executive Director of the Association of American University Presses, reveals that OFAC has not really changed its mind. The letter that OFAC sent to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers relented only in the sense that it stated that OFAC consider minor editing permissible.

To be precise, OFAC's position is that the following (quoted by Givler from the letter) are acceptable:

  • Labeling units of measurements with standard abbreviations.
  • Correcting grammar and spelling to conform to standard American English.
  • Changing the size of type or the weight of lines in illustrations so that the diagrams remain legible when reduced in size for publication.
  • Labeling illustration captions and formatting references to conform to the style manual of the publisher.
  • Sizing and positioning illustrations to fit on the page appropriately and in proper proximity to references in the text.
  • Formatting mathematical equations to fit on the page appropriately and to avoid breakage between two lines in a way that is unclear.
  • Ensuring that the author has supplied a biography and a photo.
  • Adding page folios with publication titles and page numbers.
No other editing is acceptable, nor is translation. OFAC has also stated that co-authorship by a US national and a resident of one of the embargoed countries is a crime. Notice that this means that in OFAC's opinion it is a felony for a US national to co-author a paper with a dissident in an embargoed country, to edit it, or to translate it! Of course, they aren't very likely to prosecute in that case. By the same token, in their view collaborating with a national of an embargoed country on a paper critical of the United States is a felony, and in this case they would be motivated to prosecute.

As I argued in a previous post, not only is the OFAC position bad policy, it is contrary to legislative intent, unconstitutional, and in violation of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. OFAC's current position, which is based on the claim that the exemption for "...information or informational materials, including but not limited to, publications, films, posters..." is limited to materials already fully in existence, has no basis either in the law or in the legislative history. The Treasury Department seems to be infested by petty little fascists.
Posted by Bill Poser at May 18, 2004 01:06 AM