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The “Benefit” of Spying: Defining the Boundaries of Economic Espionage Under the Economic Espionage Act of 1996

February 2, 2011

Stanford Law Review, Volume 63, Issue 2: The nation’s first jury trial on charges of economic espionage fizzled in November 2009 when jurors deadlocked on counts alleging that the defendants possessed stolen trade secrets with the intent to benefit the Chinese government. Jurors later reported intractable disagreement and confusion over the statutory element of economic espionage that requires the government prove that the defendants intended or knew that the crime would benefit a foreign government. Is it sufficient for the government to allege, as it did during trial, that stolen trade secrets would be used to start a business that would pay taxes to the Chinese government?That scenario—and others like it—presents a difficult question to courts interpreting the Economic Espionage Act of 1996 (EEA): how far down the benefit chain of causation can the statute reach? This Note analyzes the relevant text and legislative history of the statute and argues that courts seeking to define the limits of the foreign benefit element of economic espionage should not frame the issue in terms of whether the benefit alleged by the government is a “benefit” under the statute…

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