The Federal Bureau of Investigation has accused second Apple employee of data theft and stealing trade secrets. The Apple employee, who is a Chinese citizen, has been accused of attempting to steal trade secrets related to Project Titan, the company’s autonomous car project. The details were revealed as part of a charging document unsealed on Wednesday. It is the second time that an Apple employee has been charged by FBI for trying to steal intellectual property related to the autonomous car project in the last seven months.
The news was first reported by the Bay Area affiliate of NBC News. The new charges introduced by FBI comes at a time when Apple is seeing significant decline in sales in Greater China and the political tensions between US and China are at an all-time high. The two countries are engaged in a trade ware which has already affected a number of tech companies. The US government is also expanding its scrutiny of Chinese telecom and tech companies and has recently indicted Huawei and its CFO Meng Wanzhou.
The FBI has accused Jizhong Chen, a Chinese national with charges including theft of trade secrets. The charges are allegedly based on actions that date back to the time when he was hired last summer as a hardware developer by the iPhone maker. He is reportedly among the 5,000 Apple employees working on Project Titan, the self-driving autonomous car project. Chen is said to be one of the 1,200 core employees working on the project and was on the electrical engineering team, reveals the charging document. Apple recently laid off 1,200 employees as part of restructuring of Project Titan team.
Chen was reportedly spotted taking pictures of the workspace where the project takes place by fellow employees. When Chen was asked about the activity by Apple’s global security team, FBI says he confirmed to have backed up his work computer to a personal hard drive and computer. Apple’s team has found Chen with “over two thousand files containing confidential and proprietary Apple material, including manuals, schematics, and diagrams,” the charging document reveals.
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Apple’s security team also found hundreds of photographs of computer screens with sensitive company information in Chen’s possession including those of his own laptop. The charging document says Chen had photographs taken as recently as December and dating back to June 2018. The FBI also says that Chen had been placed on a “performance improvement plan” in December and was in danger of being fired by Apple.
Chen was arrested by FBI just a day before he was scheduled to fly to China. He told Apple that he had applied for two new jobs outside the company and was flying to China to visit his sick father. If proven guilty, Chen faces up to 10 years in prison and maximum fine of $2,50,000. The charges come after FBI had charged Xiaolang Zhang, a different Chinese national with stealing trade secrets in July 2018.