US loosens computer export restrictions

The U.S. government is easing export restrictions on powerful computer hardware to countries including Russia, China, India and Pakistan, saying it needs to balance national security concerns with “unnecessary regulatory burdens” on government and the technology industry.

The maximum power of computers that can be exported to these and other Tier 3 countries without prior notification of U.S. authorities will rise from 85,000 MTOPS (Millions of Theoretical Operations Per Second) to 190,000 MTOPS, the White House said in a statement Wednesday. Other Tier 3 countries include all of the Middle East and the Maghreb, other former Soviet republics, Vietnam, and parts of southeastern Europe.

The import restrictions, imposed during the Cold War, are meant to prevent certain countries from obtaining powerful hardware with potential military uses. The United States will maintain its near-total ban on technology exports to Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan and Syria.

The White House also said it will move the Baltic country of Latvia from Tier 3 to Tier 1, meaning it can obtain equipment with the same ease as Western Europe and such countries as Japan, Canada, Mexico, Australia, and New Zealand. Latvia thus joins the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia among the countries formerly in the Soviet orbit to have full access to U.S. technology.

The maximum MTOPS level listed in the regulations has been regularly adjusted upward in the past to meet rapidly improving industry performance standards. Early last year the Clinton Administration announced the new limit of 85,000 MTOPS, up from 28,000.

Industry representatives have been critical of the MTOPS standard as restrictive and ineffective, and security experts have pointed out that a blacklisted country could achieve processing power above the limit by clustering lower-powered machines.

The White House can be reached at


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