A proposal for a self-policing system to prevent terrorists from learning cutting-edge biotech information puts US life scientists face-to-face with the prospect that the broad freedoms they've traditionally enjoyed could be constricted. A National Research Council (NRC) committee formally suggested in October that scientists create a voluntary system to review all future American biotechnology experiments.1 Under the proposal, research judged too sensitive would be voluntarily moved into high-security labs.

The committee acted, some members say, to prevent the federal government from enacting a stricter security system that could impose even tighter restrictions on researchers' freedoms. The Bush administration may still mandate a more restrictive system. But it's still an open question, says Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, "[It is] being discussed at multiple levels of government, including the Homeland Security Council at the White House."

Many concede that honest scientists might inadvertently...

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