International Traffic in Arms Regulations, or most commonly known as ITAR, is a set of government rules that control the import and export of Defence-related articles, services, and technology on the US Munitions List (USML). Quite heavy! Sounds more like something related to missiles and nuclear weapons but it has more to it. So, why am I talking about such a serious thing? What purpose does it serve in our PCB world? And most importantly, why should you be reading this?
What is ITAR?
Well, to start with, think of the technology that your company recently developed for which you are planning to have a patent. You are even ready to roll these out commercially, and then you suddenly learn that there may be some legal requirements that apply. And the interesting part is these rules have civil and criminal sanctions, therefore, can land you in jail for up to 20 years. Fascinated much? In order to avoid such severe penalties and negative consequences of law violation, take some time off and understand the term ITAR. Some people in the industry might claim that ITAR law is very clear and one just needs to review the appropriate federal government website for information. Don’t go for such traps, ITAR is as easy as the US Tax Code. Therefore, take special care to determine what aspects or elements of ITAR, if any, needs your attention.
In the beginning of the article, I used the term USML or United States Munitions List. Now, let us focus on this list. To begin with, if you look down the list, you will find the majority of headings are truly Defence items: firearms, guns, explosives, tanks. But, that’s not it. If you look farther down the list, you will see that the categories start to overlap with commercial items, like training, electronics, chemicals, and satellites.
Again, besides military hardware, the list also restricts the plans, diagrams, photos, and other documentation used to build ITAR-controlled military gear. This is referred to by ITAR as “technical data”. Limiting access to physical materials is straightforward; limiting access to digital data is more complicated.
Wondering where do PCBs fit in ITAR?
ITAR is quite vague with regards to PCBs on the grounds that it records them under the catch-all phrase “specifically designed” parts and components. A PCB is a “specifically designed” platform to which components are attached to perform a specific function. It clearly falls under ITAR regulations under certain circumstances. It doesn’t only end here, a PCB has a lot of technical data that can be categorized as ITAR-controlled, like the fabrication drawing, artwork, CNC data, netlist information, customer manufacturing specification and/or ODB++ data.
ITAR mandates that access to physical materials or technical data related to Defence and military technologies is restricted to U.S. citizens only. Meanwhile, nowhere does it state that ITAR-restricted parts must be made in the USA. The U.S. allies have been making ITAR restricted parts since ages.
What exactly is a foreign national or not a U.S. citizen?
Under the export laws, if a foreign person is in the U.S. and has permanent resident alien status (a green card), they are treated as if they are a U.S. citizen under the export laws.
But why so much of fuss? Why do PCBs or anything, as a matter of fact, is ITAR-restricted?
Most regulatory restrictions placed on electronics and PCBs are intended to ensure that their quality meets the requirements for reliable operation of the critical systems in which they are deployed. These regulations are primarily rolled out for public protection. But it also aims at limiting access to certain devices, systems or data. By doing so, it prevents mal-intended or unqualified usage. Most ITAR violations involving PCBs are usually unintentional and are born out of a misunderstanding or misconception. And herein lies the problem. Ignorance is no excuse when it comes to national security, and it will not help those in the Defence electronics community when they are found to be in violation of the law. Domestically, this is accomplished by laws and statute. Internationally, trade regulations such as the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) and International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) are used to prevent Defence devices and technology from winding up in the wrong hands.
Half-knowledge, preconceived notions and misunderstandings are the worst enemies of your industry. Why?
Sometimes you may hear people refer to these as the export control laws. Don’t get confused, in many cases, these laws apply to purely domestic activities as well. For instance, your organization might be required to enroll under ITAR or there might be limitations on exchanging controlled technology to remote nationals in the U.S. Regardless of whether you are not associated with any exports activity, on the off chance that you are working in the Defence region or with U.S. Munitions List things, these laws will no doubt apply. Notwithstanding state, the Department of Defence is additionally intensely engaged with these guidelines. Truth be told, in the event that you send a case over to the State Department under ITAR, they will probably send it out immediately to the DoD. So, this is essentially guideline by or related to the Department of Defence.
Do you know your meet and greet with your foreign friend can also land you up in jail for violating ITAR? How, you ask?
A private conversation with a foreign national over a drink in a bar at your hotel in Hong Kong? That’s the export of technical data.
Even if you talk about your PCB technical data to a foreign national in the United States that is ITAR-controlled, that’s also considered the export of technical data. It’s an export to that person’s home country. This is called the “Deemed Export Rule”.
Now, I’ll talk about a few common ITAR violations:
While each organization that is liable to ITAR prerequisites is in charge of knowing and following ITAR rules, accidental violations do occur. There are chances that you are uninformed or misinformed about your safety efforts that aren’t sufficient. Or maybe your present measures have lapsed by and are not up to ITAR norms. That’s the point where you’re accidentally in violation. These kinds of ITAR violation, for the most part, result in a civil punishment. However, frequently, these punishments can be deferred if the culpable organization pursues an elective disclosure program.
Rather than accidental violations, a few organizations intentionally disregard ITAR guidelines. Perhaps they would prefer not to put resources into sufficient data security efforts or they won’t figure out or they will not be confronted for noncompliance. Regardless of your explanation behind intentionally disregarding ITAR necessities, you could confront genuine ramifications for doing as such. These outcomes could incorporate criminal or common punishments.
Omission of Facts
A last kind of violation that numerous organizations commit is overlooking data that might be pertinent to ITAR. On the off chance that you adjust or forget factual data when submitting ITAR reports or neglect to report a violation out and out, you may confront criminal or common punishments.
There’s no room for noncompliance when it comes to meeting ITAR requirements. Unfortunately, you are not given a choice. So, before you go out on the streets with your newly innovated PCBs, just make sure you are equipped enough to deal with ITAR restrictions. Because at the end of your day, it’s all that matters.