U.S. to Hurry Export Licenses for Supercomputers

SAN FRANCISCO (07/13/2000) - The U.S. Senate yesterday voted 86-11 to shorten the period that manufacturers have to wait to get approval to export supercomputers - from six months to 60 days. The House has already approved a similar measure. President Clinton had sought to speed things further with a 30-day waiting period.

"Some in Congress were concerned we might be liberalizing controls too quickly," said William A. Reinsch, undersecretary of commerce for the Export Administration. However, he said, 60 days is reasonable, especially given that "weapons sales only have to lay over in Congress for 30 days."

Clinton is likely to loosen restrictions on supercomputer exports even further, by allowing supercomputers to be exported without a license. Currently, an export license is required to ship computers with processing speeds of about 12,000 millions of theoretical operations per second, or MTOPS, to certain countries.

"We're looking at what level of MTOPS is appropriate to control" given technology advances, Reinsch said yesterday. "We're also looking at a more long-term solution than changing the MTOPS level every six months." An announcement on that could come before the end of the year, he added.

Meanwhile, Reinsch's office is preparing to release to the industry this week a draft proposal that would bring the U.S. encryption export policies more in line with European Union regulations. "They have fewer restrictions on sales to governments than we do," Reinsch said of the EU.

Under current U.S. law, companies don't need a license to export retail encryption products to most countries, but they are required to obtain a license to ship customized encryption software to governments of other countries. The EU allows export without a license if the products are going to any of 25 governments, which include the 15 EU countries, the U.S. and nine others.

"We committed in January that we would address this. If we don't do it, it will be very serious," Reinsch said. "Sales to government represent between 20 [percent] and 30 percent of the total market."

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