The U.S. Government, either alone or through agreements with other countries, has decided that access to certain items should be restricted because of how certain countries or their citizens might use them. Those items are listed in bodies of regulation, such as on the Export Administration Regulations’ Commerce Control List and on the International Traffic in Arms Regulations’ U.S. Munitions List. Some items are intrinsically harmful, such as certain pathogens or munitions, and other items have the potential for harmful applications, such as advanced encryption hardware/software that terrorists could use to plan operations without detection.
It is not always easy to identify what is export controlled, so nothing can replace searching the regulations for references to the subject matter with which you are working. However, here are some examples of areas of research that seem to more often include items that are export controlled:
Our Agencies page provides a list of relevant Governmental bodies and related to links to help determine whether your subject matter falls within their purview.
Some fall into the trap of believing that, so long as the tangible items, source code, or information that they plan on sending to another country cannot conceivably be used for a military application, they are free to send those items.
It is important to remember that embargoes/sanctions required by the U.S., such as those enforced by the OFAC, are more focused upon limiting transactions in general than on transactions in certain items.
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