Study: Discard Export Controls On Computer Hardware

A new report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies is recommending the government do away with all export controls on computer hardware, and instead form more partnerships with the IT industry to give the United States a competitive edge over potential adversaries.

The report, however, said the government needs

to regulate classified software, and recommended

the Defense Department establish a process to

protect military-specific software and databases using protection technologies and other munitions export controls.

The problem is not in protecting hardware, but the software that is running on it, said John Hamre, president and chief executive officer of CSIS and former deputy defense secretary.

"You can't develop a next-generation military fighter with commercial code. ... We should control that software," he said.

The report, "Computer Exports and National Security in a Global Era: New Tools for a New Century," called for revising export controls derived during the Cold War, arguing that powerful computers are not essential to building weapons.

A 28-member commission, composed of representatives from industry, government, academia and the policy community, produced the report for CSIS, a Washington-based think tank.

Released June 8 on Capitol Hill, the report comes as lawmakers are considering a number of bills that would lift export controls on high-performance computers.

Sens. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., and John Warner,

R-Va., said they disagree with the CSIS recommendations and oppose lifting controls on computer hardware. While they agreed there is room for more partnerships with the information technology industry, they said lifting controls will pose a danger to U.S. national security.

"We agree with the commission's finding that information technology may be the key to victory in future conflicts, and that our armed forces need to incorporate and employ this technology more quickly than ever before," Warner and Thompson said in a May 23 letter to CSIS included with the report.

But, they added, "to completely end IT hardware controls may afford potential adversaries the ability to match our capabilities." Even though the United States needs to "run faster" in obtaining an IT advantage, lifting controls would give other countries "the means to catch up," they said.

James Lewis, CSIS project director and author of the report, said the government can best maintain military superiority by taking advantage of U.S. pre-eminence in IT technologies.

The United States should partner more closely with information technology companies and universities, he said. Innovations and changes in doctrines and practices need to be integrated to build a strong foundation of education and research to ensure that U.S. technology is as advanced 10 years from now as it is today, Lewis said.

CSIS also recommended the Department of Defense establish vehicles for partnership with the private sector for new programs and joint innovation centers. The military should identify, develop and fund five "quick start" programs to incorporate private-sector IT innovations into national security applications, according to the report.

The Computer Coalition for Responsible Exporters (CCRE), an alliance of 16 U.S. computer companies and IT associations, urged the administration and Congress to reform export controls on computer hardware and chips to reflect today's technological and market realities.

"CCRE supports a number of the CSIS recommendations for reform, including ending performance-based controls on commercial computer hardware and chips; strengthening controls on software and hardware designed for military applications; and adopting a 'run faster' approach to integrating IT developments into military operations," the alliance said.

The association said an initial first step in reforming controls will be to give the president flexibility to develop a more effective system that appropriately balances national security and economic interests.

Therefore, the computer industry is urging Congress to pass legislation pending before the Senate, the Export Administration Act of 2001 (S.149), and in the House a counterpart bill (H.R. 1553), that would accomplish this goal, CCRE added.

The Senate is expected to consider S. 149 this month. Marked up by the Senate Commerce Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs March 22, the bill legislates similar recommendations to what CSIS has proposed to lift controls on computer hardware. Sponsors of the bill include Sens. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., Phil Gramm, R-Texas, and Tim Johnson, D-S.D.

In the House, the International Relations Committee this month is expected to continue hearings on the counterpart bill, H. R. 1553, which also repeals export controls on high-performance computers. Sponsors of that bill are Reps. David Dreier, R-Calif., Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. n

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