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Sensitive Topics and Geopolitically Sensitive Regions

Research and corporate documents relating to geopolitically sensitive regions, or topics considered controversial or taboo within a foreign county, may be at a higher risk of foreign interference. This interference may appear in the form of a foreign government exerting covert or coercive influence abroad to suppress criticism or shape the narrative around these subjects.

Foreign risk controls can be requested, or may be required in some instances, to counter the threat of foreign interference and ensure academic freedom, freedom of speech and research integrity.

How do I know if my research involves sensitive topics?

Sensitive topics’ is a broad term describing subjects that a foreign government has a reputational or strategic interest in maintaining, influencing or censoring. Sensitive topics are broad in scope, ranging from high-profile human rights abuse allegations and disputed territories to abstract concepts around national pride, shame, and identity.

Typically, sensitive topics are widely known and easily searchable through reputable news sources. Evidence of diplomatic disputes, state media biases and public campaigns are all indicators of how a foreign government may argue or craft a narrative around these topics.

Sensitive topics could relate to:

Risk indicators of foreign interference include:

  • Threats, both overt and implied 
  • Harassment 
  • Intimidation 
  • Coercion or lost opportunity 
  • Demands or encouragement for academic work to be edited or removed 

Even if your subject aligns with the beliefs of a foreign state on a sensitive issue, there is still a risk of interference. Accepting encouragement, gifts, benefits, or opportunities could harm your reputation and cast doubt on the credibility of your research. 

If you think your research may be at risk of foreign interference and would like advice or to know if controls apply, please contact foreign.risk@curtin.edu.au.