US loosens computer export restrictions

The US government is easing export restrictions on powerful computer hardware saying it needs to balance national security...

The US government is easing export restrictions on powerful computer hardware saying it needs to balance national security concerns with "unnecessary regulatory burdens" on government and the technology industry.

The White House said the maximum power of computers that can be exported to Tier 3 countries without prior notification of US authorities will rise from 85,000 MTOPS (Millions of Theoretical Operations Per Second) to 190,000 MTOPS. The Tier 3 countries benefiting from the export lift include Russia and other former Soviet republics, China, India, Pakistan, the Middle East, Vietnam, and parts of south eastern Europe.

The export restrictions, imposed during the Cold War, are meant to prevent certain countries from obtaining powerful hardware with potential military uses. The US will maintain its near-total ban on technology exports to Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan and Syria.

The White House also said it will move the Baltic country of Latvia from Tier 3 to Tier 1, meaning it can obtain equipment with the same ease as Western Europe, Japan, Canada, Mexico, Australia, and New Zealand. Latvia thus joins the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia among the countries formerly in the Soviet orbit to have full access to US technology.

The maximum MTOPS level listed in the regulations has been regularly adjusted upwards in the past to meet rapidly improving industry performance standards. Early last year the Clinton Administration announced the new limit of 85,000 MTOPS, up from 28,000.

But industry representatives have been critical of the MTOPS standard as restrictive and ineffective, and security experts have pointed out that a blacklisted country could achieve processing power above the limit by clustering lower-powered machines.

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