U.S. computer export rules scrutinized

The Clinton Administration has yet to decide whether to relax controls on the sale of powerful computers to foreign countries, despite a published report saying controls would be lifted soon for more than 100 countries, officials said.

The Clinton Administration has yet to decide whether to relax controls on the sale of powerful computers to foreign countries, despite a published report saying controls would be lifted soon for more than 100 countries, officials said.

An interagency group representing the U.S. Departments of State, Defense and Commerce that is weighing computer export controls has not yet reached a consensus on computer exports and has not set a deadline for doing so, said a spokeswoman for the Commerce Department's Bureau of Export Administration, who requested anonymity. The White House will examine the group's recommendation before taking action, she added.

A report in the Los Angeles Times today said the administration would soon relax controls of exports of computers capable of more than 10,000 theoretical operations per second (MTOPS).

Currently, the Clinton Administration bans export of computers with more than 10,000 MTOPS to more than 100 countries, including those in South America and most of Eastern Europe.

The Administration policy sets even tougher export restrictions on China and more than 50 other countries by banning export of military-use computers with more than 2,000 MTOPS and more than 7,000 MTOPS for commercial computers, the spokeswoman said. Lifting computer export limits to China is not under consideration, she said.

The debate on technology exports heated up with the release of a Congressional report two weeks ago which strongly criticized the Clinton Administration for allowing China to strengthen its nuclear arsenal through access to American technology, including computers.

But even before the release of the Congressional report, the Clinton Administration had been having difficulty setting computer export policy, said Daniel Goure, a senior defense analyst with the Center for Strategic Studies.

Goure estimated the Clinton Administration would take three months to a year to set a policy. "There has been ongoing concern about computers, about what level of sophistication is meaningful to national security, and there has been no consensus," he said.

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