May 2, 2018

Export Controls

Export Controls

NEW! Mason laptops can now be taken on Mason business trips to Cuba.  Contact Rebecca Hartley or for information on how to file the necessary federal authorizing forms.

U.S. export control regulations matter to you if:

  • You perform research
  • You collaborate with foreign colleagues (here or abroad)
  • You plan to travel outside the United States
  • You plan to travel to, or engage in activities involving, countries or regions subject to comprehensive economic sanctions (e.g., the Crimea region of Ukraine, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria) or persons from these areas
  • You need to ship or hand carry items, software, or information internationally
  • You need to pay someone in another country for items, services, or to reimburse expenses

In addition to controlling international shipments of tangible items, these regulations control the transfer of technical data or technology to foreign persons anywhere – even in the United States and even on Mason’s campuses.

The good news is that the overwhelming majority of the information we share at Mason is not controlled because it is not subject to the export regulations.  That means that the U.S. Government does not attempt to control who has access to that information.  This is the case for:

  • Information that is Publicly Available — in the public domain — is not subject to the export regulations and is not controlled.  That means that, if you can find it in the library or at a bookstore, it’s not controlled.  If you think about why the government controls technology, then this makes sense.  There is no point in trying to regulate something which anyone can access.
  • Educational Information – information that is commonly taught in colleges and university catalog courses is also not subject to the export regulations or controlled.  Again, this makes sense because, if anyone can enroll in a class at any university and learn the same concepts, there is no reason to control it.

Be mindful, though, that the educational information exclusion only applies to commonly taught concepts.  If you are working on cutting edge export controlled research and you want to use this research as an example in your class, talk to our office first so that we make sure you stay within the educational information exclusion.

  • Another area that is not subject to export controls is information resulting from fundamental research.  Fundamental research is any basic or applied research where the resulting information is ordinarily published and broadly shared within the scientific community.  See the Fundamental Research Exclusion section [Link coming soon – apologies in the interim] of our website for more information about this exclusion and how to preserve it.

Although export controlled research represents only a small portion of the work we do at Mason, properly protecting export controlled technology is critical.  This is a complicated and evolving area of the law that is hard to navigate, and the consequences for getting it wrong are serious.  Penalties may include:

  • Fines up to $1.1M and, for individual researchers
  • Imprisonment up to 20 years.

These penalties apply to a single violation; multiple violations from the same transaction can easily result in substantial penalties.  Sanctions on both individuals and institutions may also include:

  • Termination of export privileges
  • Suspension/debarment from federal government contracting
  • Loss of federal funding – which would have a devastating effect on Mason

University professors have had their reputations damaged, careers ruined, and have dealt with emotional and financial stress simply because they were accused – but found to be innocent – of export violations. When in doubt – please ask us for assistance in determining your export-related responsibilities.

How can I get more information?

If you have questions regarding export controls or think that your project may involve export controls, please contact Mason’s Director of Export Compliance and Secure Research, Rebecca Hartley.  She is available to answer your questions, provide training, and assist you with compliance.  Please contact her at (703) 993-2308 or (or use our export control general email address: