American Business


Economic Espionage Act

The Economic Espionage Act of 1996 was enacted to protect economic PROPRIETARY INFORMATION. With the end of the cold war in 1990, many governments and former espionage agents redirected efforts from political to business espionage. The act established penalties of up to $500,000 and 15 years in prison for agents of foreign powers and up to $10,000,000 in fines for organizations in cases where any “foreign government, foreign instrumentality, or foreign agent knowingly:
1. steals, or without authorization appropriates, takes, carries away, or communicates, or by FRAUD, artifice, or deception obtains TRADE SECRETS;
2. without authorization copies, duplicates, sketches, draws, photographs, downloads, uploads, alters, destroys, photocopies, replicates, transmits, delivers, sends, mails, communicates, or conveys a trade secret;
3. receives, buys, or possesses a trade secret, knowing the same to have been stolen or appropriated, obtained or converted without authorization;
4. attempts to commit any offense described in any of the paragraphs 1 through 3.”
In cases of commercial espionage the same actions are illegal, but the penalties are: for persons, $500,000 and 10 years; for organizations, $5 million. Like U.S. drug-smuggling laws, the act adds the potential of criminal forfeiture, meaning the seizure and disposition of property associated with the economic espionage activity. The act also directs prosecutors to “take such other action as may be necessary and appropriate to preserve the confidentiality of trade secrets,” consistent with the requirements of federal laws. Civil court actions are also possible under the act. The act exempts law enforcement activity that might be in violation of the act.