Thursday, 28 January 2010
Do you want to be IEEE Fellow: Michel GEVERS organized a Petition against the IEEE racism, but he stopped after receiving the rank of "IEEE Fellow"
You receive this email because you have signed the petition requesting the Board of Directors (BOD) of the IEEE to cease its embargo on services to the members who reside in countries considered hostile by the Bush administration. Today, more than 4,800 signatures have been received, most of them from rembers or former members of the IEEE. It is worth noting that the list of signatories contains an
exceptionally high proportion of IEEE Fellows. See http://www.csam.ucl.ac.be/IEEE_Petition.pl
First let me thank all those of you who have sent me very warm messages of support and ncouragement. For some of you, such initiative was long overdue. Many others have learned about the embargo through this petition drive, and were grateful for the initiative. In addition to signing the petition, many of you have added comments for the IEEE President which I will forward to him. Most of these comments express concern and anger at what is seen as a totally unacceptable decision on the part of the IEEE BOD.
We had initially announced that we would send the names and comments of the petitioners by the end of January, but this deadline has been extended for several reasons: - by the end of January, signatures were still coming in at a high rate; - many IEEE members were still unaware of the existence of this embargo, a fortiori of the petition; - several members asked me to wait because they wanted to publicize
the petition in various newsletters, some of which are still coming out. In addition, the IEEE President was of course fully informed about the petition and the list of petitioners, since he has written a letter to me about it, which he has made public on the IEEE website.
The petition website will therefore remain open for as long as the IEEE embargo lasts, so that people can continue to voice their opposition to it. However, all signs indicate that our action will be successful and that the IEEE will lift its embargo very soon. See "New information" below.
By March 10, I will collect all the signatures that have come in, together with all comments that people have written, and send these to the President of the IEEE. In order to maximize the impact of our petition, I therefore invite each one of you, before March 10, to try and enlist additional signatures from IEEE colleagues or student members who have not signed yet. However, please limit your requests to IEEE members. Even though some scientists and engineers feel that this is a problem of concern to all people in the EE profession, the votes of IEEE members will clearly carry more weight with the present IEEE leadership than those from people who, for some reason or another, have not become a member of our Institute or who have stopped being member. (Actually, some signatories have already decided not to renew their membership because of the embargo).
New information about the embargo and the IEEE strategy
One of the benefits of coordinating such petition is that I have received a lot of new information about the embargo issue, the attitude of the IEEE, that of other US-based scientific and professional organizations, as well as some relevant legal information. In addition, a number of interesting letters or news articles have appeared. Finally, the IEEE itself put up a webpage concerning the embargo, which is regularly updated: see http://www.ieee.org/portal/index.jsp?pageID=corp_level1&path=about&file=ofac.xml&xsl=generic.xsl
From all this information, including the information provided by the IEEE itself, the following scenario emerges very clearly.
1. The IEEE was initially alerted in 2001 by a bank that told IEEE that a bank transfer to Iran was not allowed because of embargo rules edicted by the Bush administration against commerce with a number of nations, including Iran.
2. As a result of this, IEEE decided in January 2002 to severely restrict its services to its members in Iran, Libya, Cuba and Sudan. The details of these restrictions are listed on the webpage that IEEE eventually set up in late 2003. They are also listed on our petition webpage.
3. For a long time, IEEE remained silent about these sanctions. It was essentially the Iranian community (there were still 1700 Iranian members of the IEEE in 2002) who made the embargo known.
4. In December 2002, IEEE asked OFAC (the Office of Foreign Assets Control, an administration under the direct responsibility of the US President, that supervises the trade embargoes edicted by the US administration) to clarify the rules they had to apply with regards to editorial restraints for authors from Iran. IEEE was apparently the only major US-based scientific and professional organization that had applied these trade embargo rules to scientific and editorial activities.
5. OFAC took 10 months to answer. It was clear from their response, released on September 30, 2003, that they had no understanding of the functioning of scientific editors and the operations of an international scientific and professional organization. However, by its very request, IEEE had forced OFAC to extend their embargo rulings from the realm of trade matters and export of technology to the realm of scientific publishing.
6. Beginning in October 2003, the IEEE BOD started publicizing the OFAC ruling and informing other scientific organizations and publishers about their "obligation" to abide by these rules. At the same time, they tried to pursuade these other organizations to join them in putting pressure on OFAC in order to amend the rules and restore the free exchange of scientific information that should prevail in the world of science.
7. Most of the major US-based scientific societies and publishers, such as the American Institute of Physics, the American Physical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science
(publisher of Science) have always ignored the embargo. But in late 2003, following the publication of the OFAC ruling on IEEE, some societies started applying similar editorial restrictions towards authors from Iran, Libya, Sudan and Cuba. The most important of these was the American Chemical Society, publisher of 32 journals.
8. In January 2004, the American Association of Publishers put out a memorandum about the OFAC/IEEE ruling of September 2003, in which it stated that "this ruling constitutes a serious threat to the U.S. publishing community." It is considering a legal challenge to these regulations.
9. on February 9, 2004, IEEE organized a meeting in Washington D.C. attended by about 30 publishers, as well as by the OFAC Licensing Chief, a Mr David Mills. At that meeting, the OFAC chief invited the
groups present "to help OFAC better understand the academic peer review process". (No joke!) The report of that meeting, written by the IEEE, is on the IEEE website. The report goes on to say that, "as
a result of that event, IEEE will work with industry colleagues to ensure OFAC obtains the education it needs to understand the difficult issues facing scholarly publishers resulting from restrictions on editing and peer review."
10. Following that meeting, the American Chemical Society (ACS) announced on February 11, 2004, that it was lifting the embargo, which it had only started applying last Fall as a result of the OFAC ruling on IEEE. According to the President of Publications of ACS, "the embargo put us at odds with our own ethical guidelines... It is, frankly, inimical to the advancement of science, which is a worldwide activity... ". He went on to say that, on the basis of the information obtained at the meeting with OFAC, "we now have a much better understanding of what our situation is, what the laws are, and the status of the OFAC ruling." And he added that, if the government does not change its position, "we felt we were on good legal grounds to challenge the (OFAC) ruling."
11. The IEEE, on the other hand, is continuing the embargo, and has even posted its new policy for handling of manuscripts from authors of embargoed countries on its website. These new IEEE rules only deal with editorial restraints for Iranian authors. Tougher restrictions apparently apply to authors from other embargoed countries. In addition, the other IEEE sanctions towards members from embargoed
countries remain in force: no access to website services, no promotion to Senior Member or Fellow grade, no access to member rates for participation in IEEE Conferences, etc.
It is obvious that IEEE is more isolated than ever in its application of an embargo towards some of its own members. Most of the other scientific and professional institutions, even those that have
"American" in their name, are ignoring the embargo rules of the Bush administration on the grounds that it would constitute a violation of their ethical rules. They are prepared to challenge these rules in the US courts if necessary.
The position of these other publishers is backed by the US constitution and by the laws of Congress. The First amendment of the US constitution protects the freedom of the press. The Berman amendment, adopted by the US Congress in 1988, specifically exempts information and information materials from the nation's trade embargoes.
There is, in addition, a long tradition in the US democracy for citizens and organizations to defend their rights and their freedom against government interference by appealing to the courts. Thus, the position of the US-based publishers is further reinforced by a US court decision, in 2000, in which the judge, citing the First amendment of the US constitution, ruled that the US government, represented in the case by the US Secretary of Commerce, had no legal ground to prohibit a Professor from making available on his website the source code of some encryption program. That judgment has been sent to me by a US colleague (thanks!).
One is left to wonder why IEEE decided in January 2002 to start applying an embargo that was destined for trade matters, and then decided almost a year later to ask OFAC how this embargo had to be applied to scientific and publishing matters, with the obvious effect of attracting OFAC's attention to the world of scientific publication. Some have suggested that there must be some hidden political reasons, though it would hardly seem likely that those members of the IEEE in the know could accept that the operations of our international institute be governed by a political agenda hidden from the vast bulk of the rembership. Others have suggested that there has been simple misjudgment, and a desire on the part of the IEEE leadership to be seen as a "good soldier". This suggestion is bolstered by the IEEE BOD talking about possible jail sentences for its employees, or using statements like "OFAC's authority is extraordinary, because it is grounded in presidential authority and national security", where other American societies have deliberately chosen to ignore OFAC.
Whatever the explanation, the position of the IEEE BOD is untenable. We can therefore expect that IEEE will soon put an end to an embargo it should have never initiated, and join the other scientific organizations in their refusal to apply the OFAC rulings. In addition, our petition has generated a lot of strongly worded protest letters addressed to the President of the IEEE. However, it is probably fair to say that, in order to help the IEEE leadership to take the right decision, we must continue to apply pressure from the membership through this petition, as well as all other means that you think might be useful. For this reason, we urge you to continue collecting signatures, at least until the deadline of March 10. Almost certainly, each one of you knows at least one other IEEE member who would be more than happy to join this petition drive.
After March 10, we will continue to keep you informed if new information arrives. If, as it looks now quite unlikely, IEEE continues its embargo until the end of the year, we may have to consider other steps to convince the IEEE leadership that the preservation of the international nature of IEEE is worth taking a
In closing, I welcome all suggestions, ideas, and comments that you may wish to send me.
Distinguished Member, and former VP of the IEEE Control Systems Society
A final note
When we started this petition, we put a link to the official IEEE webpages related to the embargo, as well as specifically to the Open Letter of former President Michael Adler concerning this issue. This
allowed each one of you to read the IEEE position before signing the petition. That same IEEE webpage now mentions our petition, but without any link to the petition itself and the motivation of the etitioners. It only links to the IEEE President's personal response to the petition, which he addressed to me in January. This shows a rather odd understanding, on the part of the IEEE leadership, of the free exchange of ideas and information.
* Michel GEVERS *
* Center for Systems Engineering and Applied Mechanics (CESAME) *
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