Industry Leaders Meet at Photonics West to Discuss Export Controls

Important information about U.S. export controls as they apply to optic and photonic technologies.

01 April 2019
Jennifer Douris O'Bryan, SPIE Government Affairs Director

In a series of meetings at Photonics West 2019, SPIE facilitated discussions on a myriad of topics related to export controls as they apply to optic and photonic technologies. US Department of Commerce (DOC) officials were present for these discussions, which were open to university and industry stakeholders.

The discussion items included the anticipated additional controls on emerging and foundational technology, an industry proposal to decontrol certain infrared imaging cameras, and follow-up discussions regarding proposals to clarify or update the Commerce Control List (CCL).

Emerging and Foundational Export Controls

During the Sensors and Instrumentation Export Control meeting, participants heard updates on the process to control emerging and foundational technology in the United States. This effort was instigated due to the passage of legislation in August 2018 mandating that a process to identify and control these technologies be established.

An Advanced Notice of Public Rulemaking (ANPRM) was released for public comment by the DOC on 19 November regarding emerging technologies, with a deadline for comment by 10 January. SPIE submitted comments during the open comment period reflecting input from the optics and photonics community (see sidebar).

DOC officials revealed that about 250 public comments were received for this ANPRM. Officials are in the process of reviewing the input, and the DOC expects to publish a proposed rule on some subset of the emerging technologies listed in the ANPRM in the "coming weeks to months." The DOC made clear that any proposed controls would take the approach of using specific performance parameters, as opposed to blanket control of a technology area.

There will also be a process to identify and control foundational technology. DOC Deputy Assistant Secretary Matthew Borman revealed that this process will begin with an ANPRM similar to the one published on emerging technologies. However, it was not revealed specifically what technologies would be covered in the foundational ANPRM.

SPIE's comments on the ANPRM emphasized that:
  • Technology should not be controlled during early stages of development, and should be at a maturity level where a specific military application or national security risk can be identified
  • Availability of the technology outside of the US should be a significant consideration, even if a military application or national security risk is identified
  • Research in the technology areas listed in the ANPRM is often driven forward by non-US citizens working at US universities and companies
  • Any controls applied should be narrowly tailored to a specific military application or national security concern.

Uncooled Thermal Imaging Cameras

An additional topic of discussion at both the Sensors and Instrumentation Export Control meeting and the Detectors & Cameras Working Group meeting was a US industry proposal to decontrol uncooled infrared (IR) imaging cameras that are at resolutions 640 × 580 and below. US industry reported multimillion-dollar financial losses as a result of current US export controls on these technologies.

The argument made for a reduction of controls included the significant rise in manufacturing capabilities in countries that do not adhere to the international export controls established through the Wassenaar Arrangement. In particular, China has made great strides in recent years in manufacturing high-resolution uncooled IR imagers, as well as focal plane arrays.

With the significant growth projected for sales of these mid-level uncooled IR cameras, largely fueled by the likely utilization of this technology in autonomous vehicles, US companies want to be positioned to compete in this rising market, which will require export of this technology.

Outdated CCL Proposals

During the Working Group meetings for Lasers, Lenses & Optics; and Detectors & Cameras, university and industry representatives presented on proposals submitted during the Requests for Proposals that was open for public comment from August to October 2018. This effort by the Technical Advisory Committees of the DOC was to gather input from the public regarding specific CCL entries that were in need of clarity or updates. Follow-up discussions regarding these proposals are likely to be scheduled for the upcoming Sensors and Instrumentation Technical Advisory Committee meeting at the DOC in Washington, DC, on 30 April.

SPIE will continue to work on these and other export control-related activities in conjunction with the Technical Advisory Committees at the DOC.


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