The University of Iowa

Export Controls: Who Should Care and Why

What are e​xport controls?

Federal export control laws restrict the export of goods, technology, related technical data, and certain services in the interest of protecting the national security and domestic economy. These laws have been in existence for many years, but the events of 9/11 have resulted in heightened concerns about national security and stricter interpretation and enforcement of export control laws and regulations by the federal government.

Federal export controls are accomplished primarily through the Export Administration Regulations (the "EAR," implemented by the Department of Commerce for items that have both a commercial and potential military use) and the International Traffic in Arms Regulations ("ITAR," implemented by the Department of State for military items and defense services). The Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control ("OFAC") administers and enforces economic and trade sanctions to protect foreign policy and national security goals.

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Is anything excluded from export control laws?

There are several exclusions, and two that are particularly relevant to academic research: the fundamental research exclusion and the public domain exclusion. Information about these exclusions and others is found at Export Controls Overview: Export Controls and University Research.

These exclusions can be lost, however, if researchers sign side agreements (including material transfer and non-disclosure agreements) that contain publication restrictions or restrictions on who can participate in the research. It is crucial that you not sign any such agreements--or any agreements that mention export controls--on your own.

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What happens if we violate the export control laws?

The consequences for noncompliance are very serious for both the University and the researcher (including fines up to $1,000,000 and/or imprisonment up to 10 years for individuals). These penalties apply to single violations; multiple violations in the same project can easily result in enormous penalties.

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How can export controls affect my research?

"Export” is defined not only as a physical transfer/disclosure of an item outside the US, but also as a transfer/disclosure in any form of a controlled item or information within the US to anyone who is a foreign national (not a US citizen or permanent resident). This is called the “deemed export” rule. As a result, unless an exclusion or exemption is available, the University may be required to obtain prior governmental approval (in the form of an export license) before allowing the participation of foreign national faculty, staff, or students in affected research. In some cases, a license may not be available at all based on the country involved.

In addition to affecting who may participate in the research project on campus, the following are examples of situations in which a license may be required:

  • Presentation/discussion of previously unpublished research at conferences and meetings where foreign national scholars may be in attendance
  • Research collaborations with foreign nationals and technical exchange programs
  • Transfers of research equipment abroad
  • Visits to your lab by foreign scholars

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What kinds of projects raise export control questions?

Basically, any research activity may be subject to export controls if it involves the actual export or “deemed” export of any goods, technology, or related technical data that is either 1) “dual use” (commercial in nature with possible military application) or 2) inherently military in nature.

Work in the following areas is considered high risk:

  • Engineering
  • Space sciences
  • Computer Science
  • Biomedical research with lasers
  • Research with encrypted software
  • Research with controlled chemicals, biological agents, and toxins

In addition, any of the following raise export control questions for your project:

  • Sponsor restrictions on the participation of foreign nationals in the research
  • Sponsor restrictions on the publication or disclosure of the research results
  • Indications from the sponsor or others that export-controlled information or technology will be furnished for use in the research
  • The physical export of controlled goods or technology is expected

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What do I need to do?

You need to educate yourself about export controls. You don’t have to become an expert, but you need to have a fundamental understanding of the subject to be able to know when to raise questions and alert the University to a possible export controls issue. The materials on this web site have been developed for that purpose, and the University is conducting additional educational sessions on export controls to provide information for those who need it.

Principal investigators have specific responsibilities relating to export control compliance, which you can read about in the PI section of Export Controls at the UI: Compliance.

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Where can I get help?

Any time you have a question about the application of export controls to any stage of a specific research project, contact the Division of Sponsored Programs ( 

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What is the License/No License Flow Chart?

This is a flow chart that we have developed to help you identify two basic outcomes with an export controls issue: 1) where a license is likely not required and 2) where a license may be required, depending on the circumstances (at which point you should get help as indicated on the flow chart).

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