DoJ charges former Apple engineer with stealing autonomous car secrets

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A former Apple engineer has been charged by the US Department of Justice (DoJ) for stealing trade secrets relating to autonomous cars.

The indictment was unsealed by a federal court in California, revealing the case as part of a broader crackdown on efforts by hostile nation-states to illicitly acquire sensitive US technology for their own purposes.

The accused individual, Weibao Wang, was hired by Apple in 2016 as a software engineer for their autonomous driving project known as Project Titan.

After working for 18 months on the project, Wang accepted a job offer from a Chinese company involved in autonomous driving. The indictment alleges that Wang failed to inform Apple of his departure until four months later.

According to the DOJ, it was discovered that Wang had accessed significant amounts of sensitive proprietary and confidential information during the days leading up to his departure from Apple in 2018.

A subsequent search of Wang’s residence in Mountain View, California, revealed a substantial cache of Apple’s data. On the same day, Wang flew from San Francisco to Guangzhou on a one-way ticket.

Weibao Wang now faces six charges related to stealing or attempting to steal trade secrets. Each count carries a potential prison sentence of up to 10 years and fines of up to $250,000.

This case is part of a collaborative effort by government agencies, including the ‘Disruptive Technology Strike Force’ led by the DoJ and Department of Commerce to combat the unauthorised acquisition of US technology by hostile nation-states.

“Protecting sensitive American technology—like source code for ‘smart’ automotive manufacturing equipment or items used to develop quantum cryptography—from being illegally acquired by our adversaries is why we stood up the Disruptive Technology Strike Force,” said Matthew Axelrod, assistant secretary for export enforcement at the Department of Commerce.

“The Strike Force actions announced today reflect the core mission of our Export Enforcement team—keeping our country’s most sensitive technologies out of the world’s most dangerous hands.”

In addition to Wang’s case, the collaboration has also resulted in charges against alleged procurement networks aiding:

  • The Russian military and intelligence services
  • A software engineer accused of stealing trade secrets for a Chinese competitor
  • A Chinese network attempting to provide materials for Iran’s nuclear weapons program

The crackdown on trade secret theft is a crucial step in protecting sensitive US technology from being exploited by foreign entities for their own gain.

By prosecuting individuals involved in such activities, the US government aims to deter others and safeguard national security and economic interests.

This large-scale collaborative effort between government agencies underscores the seriousness of the issue and the commitment to protect valuable US technology from unauthorised acquisition by foreign entities.

(Photo by De an Sun on Unsplash)

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