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New Bill Would Bar IP Theft Offenders From US

by Chris Brook on Monday August 3, 2020

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Yet another bill designed to crackdown on IP theft, the Stop Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2020, was introduced in the Senate last week.

It’s not the first and it certainly won’t be the last but on Thursday last week, two U.S. Senators introduced yet another bill designed to crackdown on the theft of U.S. intellectual property.

It's the latest in a long line of efforts designed to counter foreign – namely Chinese-backed - IP theft.

Two Senators, Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), put forth the latest via legislation - The Stop Theft of Intellectual Property Act (S. 4370) - last week.

While previous legislation has sought to heighten awareness of the issue and drill down deeper into how the U.S. handles foreign threats to research, this bill is largely centered around punishing perpetrators of IP theft. The legislation would make foreign nationals deportable and inadmissible if they've violated laws preventing the export of "certain goods, technology or sensitive information, or laws related to economic espionage and the theft or misappropriation of trade secrets."

The outcome would apply to foreign nationals who:

  • Violate or evade any law prohibiting the export from the United States of goods, technology, or sensitive information
  • Violate any law of the United States relating to the theft or misappropriation of trade secrets or economic espionage; or
  • Has been convicted of conspiracy to violate these laws.

The legislation follows another bill, introduced by members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee the previous week - The STRATEGIC Act, aka The Strengthening Trade, Regional Alliances, Technology, and Economic and Geopolitical Initiatives Concerning China (Strategic) Act - designed to formalize a strategy for competing with China.

While "tackling IP theft" was only one piece of the legislation, it came in the wake of news that two hackers, believed to be working for the Chinese government, were indicted for conspiring to steal trade secrets and IP. As part of the indictment, it was revealed the two also tried to break into several American biotech firms that were reportedly working on a COVID-19 vaccine.

“Attempts to hack a COVID-19 vaccine show just how high the stakes are when it comes to safeguarding America’s intellectual property," Whitehouse said last week of the he and Grassley's new bill. "Foreign nationals engaged in trade secrets theft and economic espionage must be held accountable, and more needs to be done to stop researchers working on American soil while in league with our adversaries."

The legislation wasn't a direct reaction to the indictment; Grassley, earlier this year, stressed the importance of a Government Accountability Office report that found that universities and U.S. research institutions need to do a better job protecting data from foreign theft.

That report, State and Commerce Should Improve Guidance and Outreach to Address University-Specific Compliance Issues (.PDF), was released in May and looked at export controls like ITAR. The report found that the Department of State and Department of Commerce could be doing a better job reaching out to universities about complying with export control laws to prevent data theft.

News of the legislation is just another instance of the country's increased pressure on Chinese spying - at academic institutions, private industries, non-governmental organizations and elsewhere. Just last week the Department of Justice said the FBI has been interviewing visa holders in more than 25 cities suspected of hiding their ties to the Chinese military. Meanwhile, according to the National Institutes of Health, 55 academic institutions in the US are looking into incidents involving IP theft.

Tags: IP theft

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Chris Brook

Chris Brook is the editor of Data Insider. He is a technology journalist with a decade of experience writing about information security, hackers, and privacy. Chris has attended many infosec conferences and has interviewed hackers and security researchers. Prior to joining Digital Guardian he helped launch Threatpost, an independent news site which is a leading source of information about IT and business security for hundreds of thousands of professionals worldwide.