US relaxes high end computer export controls

The US Government has raised the level of processing power of computers that can be exported without specific government permission, which will mean much greater availability of high performance hardware in the Middle East.

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By  Mark Sutton Published  January 3, 2002

The US Government has raised the level of processing power of computers that can be exported without specific government permission. The decision, which will affect most of the countries in the Middle East, will mean high performance computer hardware will be much more easily available from the US.

The ruling increases the processor speed limit of PCs that can be exported without specific government permission to ‘Tier 3’ countries from 85,000 millions of theoretical operations per second (Mtops) to 195,000 Mtops. This will mean freer export of computers capable of advanced applications to almost all Middle Eastern countries, and India, Pakistan and China among others.

Controls against Tier 3 countries were put in place amid fears that countries might use powerful supercomputers for development of weapons systems, during the late 1970s. The US high tech industry however has always protested against the restrictions, claiming that powerful computers were available elsewhere anyway, and that the restrictions merely harmed trade.

Reforms of the licensing laws have been underway for some time, with the Mtops limit being raised from 28,000 to 85,00 at the start of 2001, and the Senate removing the limit altogether in September last year, although that decision was overturned after September 11. Hardware manufacturers are now arguing that controls on processing power should be removed altogether, with more attention paid to software applications.

Those countries designated as ‘Tier 4’ by the US department of commerce—Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Sudan, Cuba and North Korea—will still be barred as export destinations.

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