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Economic espionage

is the unauthorized acquisition of U.S. proprietary or other information by a foreign government to advance the economic position of that country against U.S. industry.[1]
occurs when an actor, knowing or intending that his or her actions will benefit any foreign government, instrumentality or agent, knowingly: (1) steals, or without authorization appropriates, carries away, conceals, or obtains by deception or fraud a trade secret; (2) copies, duplicates, reproduces, destroys, uploads, downloads, or transmits that trade secret without authorization; or (3) receives a trade secret knowing that the trade secret had been stolen, appropriated, obtained or converted without authorization.[2]

The definition of "economic espionage" excludes the collection of public domain and legally available information that constitutes a significant majority of economic collection. Aggressive intelligence collection that is entirely in the public domain and is legal may harm US industry, but it is not espionage. It, however, may help foreign intelligence services identify and fill information gaps that could be a precursor to economic espionage.


With the end of the Cold War and the resulting shift in focus from military to economic power, there is evidence that economic espionage has become a growing problem for U.S. companies at home and abroad. However, the extent of the problem in the United States cannot be quantified for a number of reasons: First, U.S. companies are reticent to disclose such information to the public for fear of disclosing information to competitors or of losing their stockholders’ confidence. Also, once it is determined that a company has been victimized, it is often difficult to place an approximate value on the proprietary data and trade secrets that have been lost. Third, foreign intelligence agencies often use sophisticated techniques that may go undetected, making it difficult for companies to prove theft or compromise.

Increased use of computer and communications networks, computer literacy, and dependence on information technology heighten U.S. industry’s risk of losing proprietary information to economic espionage. In part to reduce the risk, industry is more frequently using hardware and software with encryption capabilities. However, federal policies and actions stemming from national security and law enforcement concerns hinder the use and the export of U.S. commercial encryption technology and may hinder its development.



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