I must admit that I am guilty: I have brought my Dell computer into Sudan — and out again, I am happy to say. But in doing so, I was in technical violation of various US export regulations. Over at Aid Worker Daily, Jon Thompson warned us about this already some time ago. I know that at least one international NGO decided on not buying Dells because of these regulations, even though they actually were otherwise the best for their organisation (they seemed to forget that almost every computer these days has regulated technology on board, even if it’s only wifi, so this was a particularly pointless exercise).
You might say: what does that have to do with me? I am not in America, my organisation is not incorporated in the US, what can the US government do to me? The problem here is that the US claims extraterritorial jurisdiction in many areas, of which this is one. When you bought your laptop or router, somewhere in the small print a clause was hidden stipulating that you would not export the technology to any country that is in the US’ bad books. Still, if you feel that you are untouchable for the US government, go ahead. I am sure SportingBet, a UK internet gambling site, felt much the same — until US law enforcement arrested their chairman. And don’t forget that many international NGOs get a large part of their resources from the US…
So what can you do? I see a couple of options:
- Not use any regulated technology in prohibited countries. Might be an option for some organisations, but in view of the array of these technologies this is simply not an option for the (vast) majority of us.
- Go the official route: get a license. Not easy, it needs expert legal input, it is a lot of work, and how are you going to do that in the throes of an acute emergency response? And one can wonder whether you will actually get a license for export to e.g. Sudan… although leveraging public opinion might force BIS to relent.
- Keep your fingers crossed, go ahead anyway, and (again) plan to use public opinion if things do go pear-shaped and your CEO is arrested the moment she sets foot on US soil.
Whatever you choose to do, make sure it is a conscious choice: don’t get caught on the hop.