By Robert Scott

Author Of:
The Investigator's Little Black Book


Private Investigators in every state need to familiarize themselves with the Economic Espionage Act of 1996. Certain activities that might be conducted by private investigators ­ including certain types of competitor intelligence ­ could constitute a violation of the Act and carry a penalty (for individuals) of up to a $500,000 fine and/or 15 years in Federal prison.
On Thursday evening, January 23, Special Agent Richard J. Haidle of the FBI'S Los Angeles office addressed the Los Angeles chapter of CALI (California Association of Licensed Investigators). The following is a brief summary of his presentation:
The Economic Espionage Act of 1996 (USC Title 18, sections 1831 - 1839) makes it a Federal crime to obtain through unauthorized means any type of trade secret where release of said trade secret will cause economic harm to its rightful owner.
Unauthorized means includes usage of pretexts, undercover employees (when t heownership of the company does not have knowledge of the undercover agent) and development of confidential informants where the informant is providing information about trade secrets.
Not covered by the bill and still allowable methods of investigation include the gathering of information from publicly available sources.
"Trade Secrets" is a widely used term that generally includes any information that is proprietary in nature and has not been publicly disseminated by the company, and whose release could cause economic harm to the company. Obviously, this would include formulas, designs, and prototypes. Agent Haidle also believes that proprietary client lists or customer databases would also likely fall under the umbrella of "trade secrets".
On the reverse side, investigators conducting investigations of theft of trade secrets on behalf of the victim now have a new tool to bring serious criminal consequences upon the persons responsible for the theft. A disgruntled employee who walks off with his company's (proprietary) client list and threatens to start his own company might be subject to prosecution under the Economic Espionage Act.
Need more information? Contact your nearest FBI field office and ask to speak to the ANSIR (Awareness of National Security Issues and Response) coordinator. Fifty three local FBI offices have an ANSIR coordinator, so hopefully yours is one of them. The national ANSIR coordinator is Supervisory Special Agent Larry Watson, (202)324-3000.
DISCLAIMER: This post is not intended to be a comprehensive review of the new law, nor legal advice, but rather just to pass on some important information.