SAN JOSE -- The Semiconductor Industry Association today endorsed a proposal to eliminate U.S. export controls on general-purpose computers and microprocessors that exceed the government's "Millions of Theoretical Operations Per Second" (MTOPS) threshold.
Over the years, the government's MTOPS threshold for export controls has been continually increased to keep up with the pace of commercial technologies. Critics of the system complain that commercial chip and computer technologies are advancing too rapidly to be controlled by MTOPS thresholds.
The report and recommendation for changes were released today in Washington by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), an independent public policy research organization. The CSIS panel said it examined the state of information technology around the world, including the rapid increase in system performance as well as the growth of computer networks and the Internet.
The organization concluded that "current export controls on general purpose computers and microprocessors contribute nothing to national security." The CSIS report was produced by a 28-member commission that consisted of two former secretaries of defense, a former National Security Adviser, six members of Congress and business leaders. Craig Barrett, chief executive officer of Intel Corp., was on the panel.
SIA officials in San Jose applauded the report and its conclusion.
"Over a decade has passed since the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the time for fundamental reform of our Cold War era export control policies is long overdue," said George Scalise, president of the SIA. "Given the stellar national security credentials of the CSIS panel, we are hopeful that the U.S. government quickly adopts the panel's recommendation to eliminate the current MTOPS-based export controls on general-purpose computers and microprocessors."
Currently, exports of microprocessors above 6,500 MTOPS and computers above 85,000 MTOPS, require a U.S. government license to dozens of countries, according to the SIA.
The CSIS report noted that microprocessors "have gone from 12 MTOPS to 4,000 MTOPS in a decade." The report compared this performance level with "the 1997 vintage, 240 MTOPS workstations in the EP-3E Aries II the U.S. aircraft involved in the recent incident with China and the 958 MTOPS Cray supercomputer used to design America's most advanced fighter, the F-22."
The report--called "Computer Exports and National Security in a Global Era: New Tools for a New Century"--recommends elimination of the current practice of requiring exporters to obtain a government license before they can export microprocessors above a given MTOPS level.
The SIA and proponents of changing U.S. export controls believe the government should strengthen proliferation-related controls and accelerate the process by which the U.S. gains national security advantage from information technology. The SIA said existing proliferation-related controls--which are designed to prevent the proliferation of nuclear and chemical/biological weapons by preventing technology exports to suspected foreign entities--can be strengthened by improving the government's communications to U.S. industry of the identities of the foreign entities of concern.
The report also proposes that the U.S. focus on protecting the specialized military software and databases used to develop advanced weapons' software which is currently considered as munitions for export control purposes.
"Given the millions of microprocessors produced every year and the ease at which thousands of processors can be clustered to work in parallel, computing hardware cannot be the chokepoint on which our national security depends," said Intel chief executive Barrett, who is vice chairman of the SIA board of directors as well as a member of the CSIS panel. "There are a number of other places we can focus our efforts to better protect our nation's security."