"Dual-use technology" has been worrying the West for a long time. In this context, dual-use means technology that can be used for both civilian and military purposes, and that's a huge amount of stuff now.

Having a technological advantage matters: The best tech doesn't necessarily win wars but nobody wants to go into battle with old and ineffective gear.

For that reason, countries try to work out what's worth keeping to themselves.


Export limits on goods and information that could give adversaries of the West a leg-up started shortly after World War II.

Today, export controls are formalised in the Wassenaar Arrangement that was established in 1996.

New Zealand has joined the Wassenaar Arrangement (WA), with 42 other countries including Russia. Iceland and Israel are not part of the consensus-based export controls deal, nor is China.

The December 2018 public List of Dual-Use Goods and Technologies and the Munitions List of items under export controls are in a single document. It's big and complex and grew to 240 pages last year.

Export controlled dual-use technology covers 178 pages, whereas the Munitions List is a mere 32 pages which is very telling of what countries are paranoid about at the moment.

A large range of software, cryptography, electronic circuits, computers, sensors and lasers are listed as dual-use technologies that require export licences, together with different kinds of equipment for telecommunications and infosec and hacking tools.

From "microcontroller microcircuits, manufactured from a compound semiconductor and operating at a clock frequency exceeding 40 MHz" (slow compared with today's processors) to internet protocol network communications surveillance systems, the dual-use list provides an ongoing insight around the concerns that civilian technology could be used in weaponised systems as well.

The WA dual-use list continues to expand with new categories, as Governments try to keep up with technology that's becoming increasingly pervasive and more advanced.
It's going to be a challenge to stay on top of emerging dual-use tech.

Yasha Levine wrote a great piece on how Google is a big Pentagon defence contractor, having sold its virtual 3D world app Google Earth to the United States military which loves it.

Then there are billions of data-collecting mobile Android devices worldwide, and former chairman Eric Schmidt's chilling boast from seven years ago that Google systems might be able to predict the sharemarket (it didn't, or hasn't, because that would be illegal).
Such systems add up to enormous power if used offensively, beyond the for "marketing purpose" cut-out in the Wassenaar Agreement.

As a related side note, the above goes a long way to explain why hostile regimes try to keep Google and similar Western companies out of their countries.

Apart from limiting access to "undesirable" information, hostile nations try not to leak too much data that might help the West to profile them.

The US has blocked Google Earth in Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria for years now and it's a safe bet that national security worries will continue to place limits on tech companies' export ambitions.

Technology is a loaded gun growing more powerful every year that you don't want your enemies to have.