U.S. Export Controls on Transferring Technology, Commodities and Software

U.S. export control regulations control whether certain commodities, software and information can be transmitted outside the U.S. Before arranging for items to be shipped or conveyed (electronically or otherwise) outside the U.S., these laws and regulations should be reviewed. 

In brief, the U.S. International Traffic in Arms Regulations (“ITAR”) of the Department of State regulates military, space, or defense-related items, which can include information (i.e., “technical data”).  The U.S. Export Administration Regulations (“EAR”) of the Department of Commerce covers equipment, materials, software and related information (i.e., “technology”) with commercial or both commercial and military applications. The controlled items are found in lists published by the U.S. Government. 

U.S. export laws are triggered even if a controlled item leaves the U.S. temporarily and is being transferred to a wholly-owned subsidiary of Columbia University in a foreign country. An export includes not only shipment of physical items outside the U.S., but also electronic transfers of software or information outside the U.S. An export also includes applying controlled information abroad, such as by providing training or services regarding the controlled items. 

In addition, U.S. export laws are triggered if an export-controlled item is exported from one country outside the U.S. to another country. The export of an item to a particular host country may be permissible, but the export of the item to another country triggers the need for another round of review.  The United States extends its export laws to items that originated or were produced in the U.S., or that are based on or contain U.S. technology, regardless of where the item is located.  

In fact, under the doctrine of “deemed export”, disclosure of controlled information or software to a national of another country even within the United States would trigger the need for export review. Transfer or disclosure of controlled information or software to a “foreign person” (from the standpoint of the U.S.) anywhere in the world is considered an export to that person’s country. 

Citizens and permanent residents of the United States who travel abroad should also be aware that their laptops, mobile phones, and other electronic devices brought with them are subject to U.S. export controls.  In general, individuals travelling abroad with personal electronic devices will not require a license, so long as the devices are routinely available from commercial vendors, are kept in the traveler’s immediate control while outside the U.S.,  and are brought back to the U.S. within one year of the initial departure.  However, licenses are more likely to be required for a device that holds encryption software or contains software, components, or information that are themselves controlled under U.S. export controls and not exempt as “fundamental research”.  “Fundamental research” is research in science, engineering, or mathematics, the results of which ordinarily are published and shared broadly within the scientific community, and for which the researchers have not accepted restrictions for proprietary or national security reasons.  

In addition to U.S. export laws, other countries may also have their own export and import laws.  As a result, outside the U.S., the laws of the host country may include additional requirements.

This can be a complex area to navigate. For assistance for research activities, please confer with the Office of Research Training and Compliance, and for other activities, with Global Support.

For guidance when traveling temporarily outside the U.S. with laptops, tablets, mobile phones and other similar electronic devices, please review Guidance on Export Controls for CU International Travelers  and for additional international travel information, visit the Global Travel website.