Senate introduces cyber-espionage bill

The proposed law, straightforwardly named the Deter Cyber Theft Act, aims to protect the fruits of billions of dollars in research and development from spies – both homegrown as well as state-sponsored. The Deter Cyber Theft Act would require the Director of National Intelligence to compile an annual report on foreign economic and industrial espionage, including a priority watch list of the worst offenders; a list of companies and countries engaging in theft; a list of US technologies or proprietary information targeted by such espionage and, to the extent possible, a list of such information that has been stolen and what it’s been used for; and actions taken by the DNI and other federal agencies to combat industrial or economic espionage in cyberspace.

The legislation, most importantly, would also require the president to block import of products containing stolen US technology, those made by state-owned enterprises of nations on the DNI’s list that are similar to items identified in its report as stolen or targeted, and any products made by a company the DNI identifies as having benefited from theft of US technology or proprietary information.

The bill was introduced by Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.).

Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said that it was time to send a clear message to foreign countries and companies that illegally access valuable data and then use it to compete against American companies and workers.

“It is time that we fought back to protect American businesses and American innovation,” he said in a statement. “We need to call out those who are responsible for cyber theft and empower the president to hit the thieves where it hurts most – in their wallets, by blocking imports of products or from companies that benefit from this theft.”

The statement noted that “China is by far the largest source of theft attempts against US companies,” ratcheting up the ongoing rhetoric regarding cyberthreats from that country. Reuters pointed out that lawmakers have said that US companies suffered estimated losses in 2012 of more than $300 billion due to trade-secret theft, much of it due to Chinese cyber-espionage.

General Keith Alexander, head of the US National Security Agency and commander of the US Cyber Command, has called the electronic theft of intellectual property from US companies the "greatest transfer of wealth in history."

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