The US is wrongly targeting Chinese scientists for industrial espionage, the report said


MIT Technology Review

For years, civil rights groups have accused the US Department of Justice of racial profiling against scientists of Chinese descent. Today a new report provides data that can quantify some of their claims.

The study, published by the Committee of 100, an association of prominent Sino-American citizen leaders, found that people of Chinese descent are more likely than others to be indicted under the Industrial Espionage Act – and far less likely to be convicted.

“The fundamental question this study seeks to answer is whether Asian Americans are treated differently when it comes to suspected espionage,” said the report’s author, Andrew C. Kim, attorney and visiting scholar at the South Texas College of Law Houston. “The answer to that question is yes. “

The study, which examined data from industrial espionage cases filed by the US from 1996 to 2020, found that nearly half of all defendants were accused of stealing secrets for the benefit of China. This is far less than the numbers given by US officials to justify the Justice Department’s China initiative.

The study found that 46% of all defendants were charged with stealing secrets for the benefit of China, while 42% of the cases involved American companies.

According to the report, 46% of the defendants charged under the Economic Espionage Act were charged with activities for the benefit of Chinese persons or organizations, while 42% of the defendants were charged with stealing secrets for the benefit of American companies.

The numbers directly contradict many of the Justice Department’s messages related to the China Initiative, which was launched in 2018 to combat industrial espionage. The ministry has publicly stated – for example in the first line of its China Initiative homepage – that 80% of its prosecutions would benefit the Chinese state, reflecting “theft on such a massive scale that it is one of the largest transfers “. of the wealth in human history, ”as FBI Director Christopher Wray described it in 2020.

Since 2019, the program has been aimed primarily at scientists.

“Strong evidence for charges with less evidence”

The report was based on an analysis of public court records, as well as press releases from the Department of Justice for all criminal prosecutions under the Economic Espionage Act between 1996 and 2020. It is an update of an earlier analysis published in the Cardozo Law Review and covering the period up to 2016.

The charges of “theft of trade secrets” and “industrial espionage” were taken into account, with the indictment of “industrial espionage” requiring proof of a “nexus to a foreign facility” and carrying higher penalties. (These two categories make up only part of the charges under the China Initiative; Kim briefly mentions “false information and litigation,” and individuals have been charged with, among other things, aid fraud and visa lies.)

Because demographic information and citizenship data are not on court records, Kim used names as a proxy for race and he used Google searches when names like Lee and Park were ethnically ambiguous. Regarding citizenship, Kim noted that press releases frequently mention whether a defendant is a “foreigner”, so he assumes that all defendants are citizens unless otherwise stated.

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