Controls in Pop Culture

The Avengers: World-Saving Superheroes, or Walking Export Compliance Violations?

Marvel heroes raise some interesting regulatory implications that are often touched upon by the movies, but never actually explored in depth. Take the question of export compliance, for instance. How exactly would that apply to the globetrotting characters in the Marvel Universe?

As it turns out, far more stringently than you would think.

IRON MAN: YOU NEED AN EXPORT LICENSE FOR YOUR SUITS

This probably won’t come as a surprise to many of you, but Tony Stark is flagrantly in violation of many U.S. export laws. In fact, in Iron Man 2, his violations of government regulations becomes a plot point because he is in contravention of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). His Iron Man suit is a military weapon, created with the intent of being used for military and paramilitary purposes, and many components of it can also similarly be used as a weapon. So every time Stark decides to go for a joyride around the globe—which happens often—he is violating U.S. export laws. This doesn’t even get into all the countless border control laws he is also violating!

Additionally, Stark may also be guilty of engaging in “deemed exports” without a license. A deemed export is defined by the BIS as “releasing or otherwise transferring ‘technology’ or source code to a foreign person in the United States.”[i] Stark’s company primarily deals in military software and technology that can be classified as “dual-use,” and Stark uses this technology in his own Iron Man suits, as well as sharing it with The Avengers. However, a number of the Avengers are not U.S. citizens, and S.H.I.E.L.D. is a non-U.S. entity. Therefore, any exposure of controlled technology to many members of the Avengers or to S.H.I.E.L.D. could be considered a deemed export.

THE INCREDIBLE HULK IS INCREDIBLY NON-COMPLIANT

Poor Bruce Banner has it really rough. “The Hulk” can easily be classified as a Weapon of Mass Destruction (WMD), bringing him under the jurisdiction of the ITAR, and Banner himself carries the potential of unauthorized sharing of controlled technology with non-U.S. entities by simply exposing them to the Hulk. This means that Banner is in contravention of both the ITAR and the EAR, and his ability to leave the U.S. would be severely restricted—if not outright forbidden. Since Banner definitely does not engage in proper due diligence with the government—he is considered to be a fugitive from justice, after all—we can safely assume he is in violation of export regulations.

THOR: THE GOD OF THUNDER—AND OF EXPORT COMPLIANCE VIOLATIONS

The God of Thunder was the hardest Avenger to classify for the purposes of this discussion. While Thor himself doesn’t actually violate any export compliance laws, he does violate immigration laws—he is an illegal alien in the truest sense of the word, and he has gained entry into the United States without going through Border Control and Customs. His presence also spells trouble for the other Avengers—since he is not an American citizen, any exposure of U.S. military or dual-use technology to him would be a “deemed export.”

His hammer Mjölnir, on the other hand, is an export compliance violation nightmare. It’s made from “the heart of a dying neutron star,” and has significant military implications and applications.  An interesting wrinkle here is that Mjölnir is not American in origin, and it should have been subject to U.S. import laws before it was brought into the country—but now that it is in the U.S., it is subject to American export laws, which places it under the purview of the ITAR. Thor cannot actually take his hammer out of the country without proper licenses and paperwork. I think we can be reasonably certain that addressing the required filing and compliance requirements is not something that Thor has done.

A SENSE OF PERSPECTIVE

So yes, a simple assessment of just some of the Avengers shows us that the lawmakers and enforcers in the Marvel universe really don’t seem to be too concerned about enforcing U.S. export compliance laws. We don’t think any of the Avengers could have gotten away with their repeated, blatant infractions of export laws in the real world!

Then again, they do save the world. A lot. Maybe sometimes, you need a sense of perspective.

What do you think about the Avengers and their adherence to export laws? Make sure to let us know your thoughts by tweeting to @eCustoms with the hashtag #MCUECCN.


[i] Scope of the Export Administration Regulations. Bureau of Industry and Security. https://www.bis.doc.gov/index.php/documents/regulation-docs/412-part-734-scope-of-the-export-administration-regulations/file. Page 10. Accessed November 12, 2017.