US Restricts Exports of AI for Analyzing Satellite Images

January 6, 2020 Updated: January 6, 2020
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WASHINGTON—U.S. technology companies that build artificial intelligence software for analyzing satellite imagery will face new restrictions on exporting their products to China and elsewhere.

The Commerce Department said new export rules take effect on Jan. 6 that target emerging technology that could give the U.S. a significant military or intelligence advantage. A special license would be required to sell software outside the United States that can automatically scan aerial images to identify objects of interest, such as vehicles or houses.

The rules could affect a growing sector of the tech industry using algorithms to analyze satellite images of crops, trade patterns and other changes affecting the economy or environment.

The new export rules are the result of Congress passing a law in 2018 that updated national security-related export controls to protect “emerging and foundational” technology that could end up in the hands of foreign governments.

It’s an interim rule until the public has a chance to weigh in before March, but the Commerce Department says it is in the national security interests of the United States to immediately implement the controls on Monday.