Briefly: The US Department of Justice (DOJ) has accused a former Apple engineer of stealing self-driving car secrets from the Californian tech giant before fleeing to China. The case is one of five brought by a new DOJ taskforce working to prevent foreign governments from accessing critical US tech.
US authorities allege the man:
- 🕵️ Worked secretly for a rival China-based firm while still at Apple
- 💾 Downloaded reams of sensitive data in his final days at Apple, and
- 🛫 Got a ticket to China just hours after telling the feds he had no such plans.
The accused has remained in China since then (2018), but could face decades in prison if (and that’s a yuuuge if) he’s ever extradited back to the US.
And this isn’t exactly a one-off. According to a recent report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies:
- It’s the third time an ex-Apple employee has faced similar charges
- US firms have sued Chinese rivals for IP theft 1,200 times since 2000, and
- There’ve been at least 120 reported instances of China itself conducting espionage against the US to acquire commercial tech.
Intrigue’s take: This latest iTheft dates back to 2018, and a lot’s changed since then. These days, the US is far more wary of China’s attempts at self-sufficiency in cutting edge tech, and last year moved to block its access to advanced chips.
In response, Beijing launched a ‘cybersecurity review’ into one top U.S. chip maker (Micron), and is scrutinising the acquisition plans of another (Intel).
So at this point, it’s hard to see how US-China tech ties could get much worse.
Also worth noting:
- Recruiters from China-based firms have been spotted standing outside South Korean chip factories, hoping to poach US-educated talent.
- Japan and the Netherlands joined the US in restricting the sale of chip manufacturing technology to China earlier this year.