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Guideline 10

Legal and ethical frameworks, usage rights

Researchers adopt a responsible approach to the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of research. They comply with rights and obligations, particularly those arising from legal requirements and contracts with third parties, and where necessary seek approvals and ethics statements and present these when required. With regard to research projects, the potential consequences of the research should be evaluated in detail and the ethical aspects should be assessed. The legal framework of a research project includes documented agreements on usage rights relating to data and results generated by the project.


Researchers maintain a continual awareness of the risks associated with the misuse of research results. Their responsibility is not limited to compliance with legal requirements but also includes an obligation to use their knowledge, experience and skills such that risks can be recognised, assessed and evaluated. They pay particular attention to the aspects associated with security-relevant research (dual use). HEIs and non-HEI research institutions are responsible for ensuring that their members’ and employees’ actions comply with regulations and promote this through suitable organisational structures. They develop binding ethical guidance and policies and define procedures to assess ethical issues relating to research projects.

Where possible and practicable, researchers conclude documented agreements on usage rights at the earliest possible point in a research project. Documented agreements are especially useful when multiple academic and/or non-academic institutions are involved in a research project or when it is likely that a researcher will move to a different institution and continue using the data he or she generated for his or her own research purposes. In particular, the researcher who collected the data is entitled to use them. During a research project, those entitled to use the data decide whether third parties should have access to them (subject to data protection regulations).

The dual use problem in mathematics

In many cases, basic research in both theoretical and applied mathematics has the potential to be significant to security-related research as well (possibly not until later). Just as a knife as a cutting tool can always be used as a weapon too, mathematical methods investigated in the field of control theory, for example, can often be used for both peaceful and military purposes. The same applies in the field of number theory with regard to its application in the fields of cryptography and coding theory. The answer to this cannot be a general ban on basic mathematical research of course.

However, aspects and issues regarding security-related research should be addressed in accordance with the applicable rules and laws when there is evidence of the potential concrete applicability of mathematical research in security-related areas. Indications might include the field of application targeted by the researchers themselves, or else their own previous research background or that of cooperation partners. In the case of cooperative projects, one point that should always be taken into consideration and indeed critically questioned is whether the participating institutions or their sponsors or funders aim to achieve or even require the utilisation of research results in a security-related context.

The comment belongs to the following categories:

GL10 (Natural sciences)