Apple is worried that two of the company’s ex-employees who were born in China and are accused of stealing trade secrets from the company could flee to their native countries before the trial.
Prosecutors for Apple argued at a court hearing Monday that Xiaolang Zhang and Jizhong Chen are flight risks and should be monitored, Reuters reported. Zhang worked on Apple’s secretive self-driving car program and swiped files related to the project, according to prosecutors.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Marissa Harris read an Apple statement during the hearing asking the court to consider Chen and Zhang flight risks.
“Apple’s intellectual property is at the core of our innovation and growth,” the statement reads. “The defendants’ continued participation in these proceedings is necessary to ensure a final determination of the facts, and we have deep concerns the defendants will not see this through if given the opportunity.”
Federal authorities arrested Zhang in 2018 at a California airport before he could board a flight to China.
Chen, meanwhile, took 2,000 files from Apple containing “manuals, schematics, diagrams and photographs of computer screens showing pages in Apple’s secure databases,” prosecutors said.
Agents arrested him in January at a train station before he could take a trip to China.
“This is not an espionage case,” attorney Daniel Olmos, who represents the men, said Monday. The government “is not requesting detention, but they are requesting essentially indefinitely location monitoring.” Olmos said during the hearing that they had family reasons to visit China.
Zhang’s wife told federal agents he attempted to flee to Canada when agents searched his home. Zhang is a permanent U.S. resident.
Prosecutors also said they found documents from several of Chen’s former employers at his second home in Maryland. They found a 2011 document from Raytheon Co. that they later determined was classified as “confidential.”
“This document contains information relating to Raytheon’s work on the Patriot Missile program and was not (and is not) permitted to be maintained outside of Department of Defense secured locations,” prosecutors wrote. A hearing on the case is scheduled for February.
Chen and Zhang’s case comes as lawmakers and government officials worry China is stealing U.S. technology. Republican Sen. Josh Hawley, for instance, introduced legislation in June seeking to prevent American researchers from using technologies developed by Chinese big tech companies.
Universities are “key targets of espionage and intellectual property theft by not only China, but Russia and Iran,” the Missouri Republican said in a statement announcing the bill. “For too long, these countries have sent students to our universities to collect sensitive research that they can later use to develop capabilities that threaten our national security.”
Hawley introduced a bill in May that would force President Donald Trump to restrict technology to China that would contribute to the country’s military. That bill would also place heavy restrictions on technology that influences artificial intelligence, semiconductors, and robots.
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