Export Controls: Overview


At the core of what Stanford University holds most dear - the ability for its faculty and students to engage in research in an open environment - is its Openness in Research policy. Stanford is committed to the principle of freedom of access by all interested parties to the underlying data, to the processes and to the final results of research. In keeping with this commitment, Stanford will not accept research agreements that limit the publication of results or that limit the participation of researchers in the intellectually significant portions of a project on the basis of citizenship.

During the course of such open research, Stanford faculty, staff and students will likely, at one time or another, intersect with federal regulations that impose access, dissemination, or participation restrictions on the transfer of items and information regulated for reasons of national security, trade sanctions policy, anti-terrorism, or non-proliferation. Those regulations are called US export control regulations.  Stanford is fully committed to complying with all laws and regulations that pertain to the conduct and dissemination of our research, including export control regulations.

When export controls apply - for example, when we use disclosure-restricted technical information to generate our fundamental research or hand carry items outside the US in our baggage - the export of regulated items, information, or software may require approval from the US Government in the form of an export license. An export license permits "controlled" tangible items or software to be sent outside of the US, or controlled information or software code to be shared with foreign persons, either in the US or abroad. 

Most of the information or software that Stanford shares with its colleagues and research partners is not export controlled or subject to trade sanctions.  And the majority of tangible items that Stanford exports, like materials, prototypes, components, or equipment, do not require export licenses since they are generally not destined to countries of concern or to individuals or organizations subject to US embargoes or sanctions. However, all Stanford personnel are required by University Export Control Policy to demonstrate their due diligence and to document their adherence to US export controls and trade sanctions laws when such laws apply.


US export controls exist to protect the national security and foreign policy interests of this country.  Export controls govern the shipment, transmission, or transfer of regulated items, information and software to foreign countries, persons or entities.  

University awareness of export control laws and requirements are critical in a post-9/11 world: there are now significant civil and criminal penalties for violations of these regulations. Enforcement actions have recently been brought against several academic institutions, with resulting convictions. That said, the conduct and results of fundamental research are generally excluded from federal "deemed export" controls (for example, disclosure of information to foreign nationals on U.S. soil) in accordance with National Security Decision Directive 189.

When they do apply, export controls can impose access, dissemination, and participation restrictions on the conduct of Stanford research.  And when they do apply, they apply to ALL Stanford activities, not just sponsored research.  Export control regulations are complex and constantly evolving -- for example, they include technical terms of art; "exports" are not just items sent out of the country by the USPS, FedEx, UPS or another freight forwarder, but include international handcarries of items (laptops, cell phones, biologicals) as personal baggage or sharing certain regulated technical information or software code domestically. For this reason, the Office of the Vice Provost and Dean of Research created entries in our Glossary (see the "Definitions" section towards the bottom of the page) introducing common export control terms and concepts, in easy-to-understand terms, to make export control regulations accessible to the Stanford community.

Stanford relies on proper documentation in order to make use of exclusions and exemptions from licensing requirements. Recordkeeping is important if you are involved in research efforts where it may be necessary to ship research articles outside the U.S. or share export-controlled information provided by third parties, such as vendors, subcontractors, or collaborators.

What Do Export Controls Usually Cover?

When export controls apply, they are frequently, but not exclusively, associated with items, information, and software code within the following general areas:

  • Chemical, Biotechnology, and Biomedical Engineering
  • Materials Technology
  • Remote Sensing, Imaging, and Reconnaissance
  • Navigation, Avionics, and Flight Control
  • Robotics
  • Propulsion System and Unmanned Air Vehicle Subsystems
  • Telecommunications/Networking
  • Nuclear Technology
  • Sensors and Sensor Technology
  • Advanced Computer/Microelectronic Technology
  • Information Security/Encryption
  • Laser and Directed Energy Systems
  • Rocket Systems
  • Marine Technology

Federal Agencies and their Export Control Regulations

The Federal agencies and their export control regulations most commonly associated with research activity at academic institutions in the US are the following:

US Department of State (Directorate of Defense Trade Controls)

The International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) govern "defense articles and defense services" which are defined as items, information, software (defense articles) and technical assistance (defense services) specially designed or adapted for military use or which "provide a critical military of intelligence advantage." Defense articles include certain satellites and spacecraft.  

Defense articles and defense services are identified on the ITAR's US Munitions List. ITAR-listed items that are not the tangible products of university fundamental research generally require a license for campus access and use by all foreign persons.

US Department of Commerce (Bureau of Industry and Security)

The Export Administration Regulations (EAR) govern "dual use" items and information predominantly civilian in character but having military applications. Dual use items that are identified on the Export Administration Regulation's Commerce Control List (CCL) have an Export Control Commodity Number (ECCN) and are of elevated strategic concern. Dual use items that are subject to regulation but are not identified on the CCL are termed "EAR99."

Dual use items may require an export license depending on the item, the recipient, the recipient's citizenship or country of destination, and the item's application.

US Department of the Treasury (Office of Foreign Assets Control)

The Office of Foreign Assets Control Regulations (OFAC) administers and enforces trade embargoes and economic sanctions. For reference, see their Lists of Sanctioned Countries and Specially Designated Nationals (SDNs) under the "Resources" tab on the OFAC website.

Violations of these export control regulations can lead to significant civil and criminal penalties.