Friday, December 16, 2011

Commerce Dept: export licenses for intercept tech have "exploded" over last 2,3 years

Earlier this year, the Commerce Department's Bureau of Industry and Security held a two-day Conference on Export Controls and Policy. It included a workshop specifically focused on the rules governing the export of encryption technologies (which include intercept equipment). The full transcript can be found here: part 1 (pdf), part 2 (pdf).

As a non-lawyer, and non-expert in export control regulations, I was pretty surprised to learn that the government already strictly regulates the export of covert communications surveillance technology. What this means, of course, is that the Commerce Department already has a list of every foreign buyer of US made covert surveillance technology. Unfortunately, they won't provide this information to the public, and as far as I know, they won't provide it in response to FOIA requests.

In any case, reading through the transcript of the event, the following section caught my eye, as it specifically addressed the regulations that apply to surreptitious listening technology:

Michael Pender: Licenses [for "surreptitious listening" technology] are required for export to all end users, all destinations, and there's a general policy of denial.

The exceptions are for U.S. government agencies or communication-service providers there in the normal course of their business. So, if you're representing a U.S. law-enforcement agency and you're partnering with some other organization in another country and you need to send something out of the county, you know, contact us. Licenses are authorized for that situation.

If you represent a telecommunications company and you receive court orders for wiretaps from the local law enforcement and you have to comply with those court orders, you know, that's one of the few circumstances in which we can grant a license.

And you wouldn't think there would be that many licenses for these products in general in a year, but the rate at which they're coming in has just exploded over the course of the last 2, 3 years. I mean, I think I went from getting one a year to like five times as many, and then again, it's at least doubled or tripled in just the last year.

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