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The Latest in Evangelistic Trends: International Arms Trafficking!

October 13, 2003

© 2003 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved
President, Ministry Business Services, Inc.
Reprinted from NACBA Ledger

Some time ago an article caught my eye about folks going to jail because they took computers outside of the U.S.  The problem was that, because of computer processor capabilities and the built-in cryptographic capabilities of common off-the-shelf software, it violated Export Administration Regulations.  The article went on to describe the maximum fines and penalties associated with the export of these items: $1,000,000 plus 10 years in jail for each criminal violation, or $500,000 plus a 3-year export ban for each civil violation.

A few days later a colleague who works for an international ministry told me he had just sent software updates to their overseas field offices.  Click— the light went on.  I told him about the article I had just read which applied to the software technology he just sent overseas.  We were both shocked as we discussed the impact these regulations could have on similar international ministries.

Historical Context
The original regulations, called International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), about such exports were issued decades ago to keep advanced intelligence technology built in the U.S. from those who could use it to harm us and/or our interests.  Since that time, the oversight of computer technology exports has been transferred to the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security.

Yet these laws are broken every day by those who are unaware of their application to today’s computers and software.  While some may argue that they are out-dated, there are many who have been fined and are sitting in jail today for their willful― or even unintentional― violation.

Export Limits
The Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) has classified each country into one of three tiers that reflects the level of threat associated with that country.  While most countries are considered friends of the U.S. (Tier 1, our closest allies), there are about fifty that are considered potentially dangerous (Tiers 3 and 4).  Those “higher threat” countries may not be allowed to receive computer technology from the U.S. without prior authorization, or a license to export it to them.  Tier 4 countries, those considered the most dangerous, include Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria.

(Visit to see who’s listed in each Tier.)

It’s All About Encryption
The concern centers around hardware and software encryption capabilities.  Technically, if a computer has a Composite Theoretical Performance (CTP) of more than 28,000 and/or the ability to process more than 190,000 Million Theoretical Operations Per Second (MTOPS), or if any of the software loaded on the computer has encryption capabilities built into it, it might not be exportable to Tier 3 countries, and will almost definitely not be allowed to go to Tier 4 countries.

Sounds highly technical, doesn’t it!  Don’t give up, there’s an easy way to know if what you want to do is legal.  Keep reading.

Contact Your Missionaries
Many churches and ministries have given computers to overseas missionaries and pastors unaware that doing so may have violated U.S. Export Administration Regulations!

Ask those missionaries and pastors whom you have blessed with computers and software to send you a list of exactly what hardware and software they have.  Do the same for any overseas offices your ministry has.  Have them include the version/model numbers and serial numbers.

There May Be An Easy Fix!
According to officials at the Bureau of Industry and Security, answers may be just a phone call away.  All you need to do is call 202/482-4811 between 9am and 5pm EST to determine if the software and/or hardware is a concern.  They may be able to give you the good news that what you’re wanting to do requires no license!

Sounds easy, doesn’t it?  It is.

In The Future…
Call the Bureau of Industry and Security to obtain the necessary license to export before sending that encryption-capable software and/or hardware overseas.  According to BIS officials, they would rather see compliance sought, than to have to investigate and enforce it after the fact.

This law may seem bothersome.  Perhaps it is, but it is the law, and in light of 9/11, it may make a major difference in our safety.  As Christians we should model righteousness to this dark world around us.  Whether there are potential fines or not, if the law doesn’t violate a scriptural principal, we should obey it.

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