Macro/Micro: Untangling the deemed export mess

Terena Bell
Multilingual December 2012
Columns and Commentary

War is one heck of a macroforce. Let’s face it, there are fewer things on this earth that impact more aspects of people’s lives than war. Whether or not countries are getting along, and to what extent, greatly controls the outcome of almost everything it touches: world politics, the economy, even translation.

I’m not talking about language services for the defense industry, even though that’s clearly a way in which the macroforce of war and peace impacts our work worlds. I’m talking about exporting. Exporting, you say? Yes, deemed exporting. . .

In the United States, the federal definition of a deemed export is an export of technological information that is “deemed” to take place when it is released to a foreign national who’s within the United States or to a foreign national who’s — well, logically enough — in a foreign country. In other words, if you send software code, design specs or similar information abroad for translation, the US government considers you to be an exporter, and that information to be an export. And there are rules surrounding exporters and exports that change depending on who the United States is at war with, used to be at war with, thinks it might go to war with — aw, heck, let’s just say it — pretend for the moment that countries are people. Now ask yourself if people always get along.

I’ll admit, war is an extreme word to use in these circumstances. But our industry’s prior lack of attention to this matter could get a lot of companies and their clients in big trouble.

Here’s what happens: The US government doesn’t want innovative information, public or private, sent out of the United States and into countries it doesn’t get along with. As translation providers, we are constantly sending our clients’ information all around the world. If that information gets sent from the United States to a country the United States has sanctioned, we and our clients could get fined or go to jail. Like real jail. The kind with bars and stuff. Got your attention now?. . .