On Monday, October 3, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal of retired University of Tennessee professor John Reece Roth. In July 2009, Roth received a four year prison sentence for illegally exporting military technology, in large part due to his work with graduate students from Iran and China. Professor Roth’s conviction and prison sentence forcefully remind the research community, commercial as well as academic, of the potentially severe consequences that may arise from ignoring technology export controls.
During the relevant time period, Professor Roth worked with Atmospheric Glow Technologies, Inc., a plasma technology company, on plasma actuators in development for use in U.S. Air Force drones. The plasma actuators are controlled under the Arms Export Control Act, which regulates the import and export of defense articles listed on the United States Munitions List, which is codified in Section 121 of the International Trafficking in Arms Regulations (“ITAR”). Under the ITAR, technology related to the plasma actuators is controlled as technical data, and providing instructions on the use of plasma actuators is controlled as a defense service. With only limited exceptions, transfers of ITAR-controlled items, technical data, or defense services to a foreign national or a foreign country without a license from the U.S. government are prohibited. The prohibition includes sharing controlled technical data with or providing defense services to foreign nationals in the United States.
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