The Munitions List

The Arms Export Control Act (22 U.S.C. 2778(a) and 2794(7)) provides that the President shall designate the articles and services deemed to be defense articles and defense services for purposes of this subchapter. The items so designated constitute the United States Munitions List and are specified in part 121 of this subchapter.

22 CFR, §120.2

The US government maintains a list of technologies that whose export is controlled because they can be used in defense applications. This list is called the “United States Munitions List,” but there’s more on it that just guns and bombs. Spacecraft are on this list. So is some oceanographic equipment. Encryption technology also is.  

If the government had called this list the “Defense Articles and Services List,” it would have made things much easier for many people. The Department of Commerce wouldn’t have to answer hundreds of questions about exactly why encryption technology is a munition. We also wouldn’t have to listen to hackers trying to score points with their friends by saying things like, “Heh heh, encryption is a defense article, isn’t it? This means that by writing the RSA algorithm on my arm and going to Tijuana for the weekend, I’m becoming a trafficker in defense articles. Don’t worry, thought, they’ll never make me talk.”

If only the government had used different words.

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