Potent "cybertheft" sanctions a harbinger of knowledge war

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U.S. developing sanctions against China over cyberthefts in The Washtington Post by Ellen Nakashima (2015-08-30), excerpt:

The executive order authorizes the Treasury secretary, in consultation with the attorney general and secretary of state, to impose the sanctions on companies, individuals or entities that have harmed national security, or the nation’s economy or foreign policy. It’s not clear how many firms or individuals will be targeted, though one official said the Chinese firms would be large and multinational. Their activity must meet one of four “harms”: attacking critical infrastructure, such as a power grid; disrupting major computer networks; stealing intellectual property or trade secrets; or benefiting from the stolen secrets and property.

It is that last prong, in particular, that has the potential to be quite effective, sanctions experts say. “Obviously, there’s no silver bullet,” said Zachary Goldman, a former policy adviser at the Treasury Department’s Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence and now executive director of New York University’s Center on Law and Security. But if the sanctioned companies are large and global, “they will effectively be put out of business.”

Cybersecurity is one of the top policy issues in the relationship, and also among the thorniest.

The relationship between China and the United States is large and complex. “There are going to be areas where we have cooperation and disagreement all at the same time,” the first U.S. official said. “That’s just the reality of the relationship. The economic espionage and cybersecurity issues are going to continue to be a major irritant to the bilateral relationship.

This serves as a harbinger of the top importance of knowledge policy and the knowledge economy and of the security risks (see ‘distraction’, ‘global malgovernance’, and ‘nationalism’) of treating knowledge as property.

The U.S. executive order declaring a “national emergency” doesn’t mention “intellectual property” and is concerned with trade secrets (among other things) rather than copyright or patent, but when nation states deem themselves economic warriors it is not hard to extrapolate the thinking of the order to them taking trade war like measures targeted at patent or copyright disputes on behalf of domestic interests, and in so doing putting world security at great risk.


  • Of course trade secrets are often deemed another form of intellectual property. Although they get much less attention than patent, copyright, or trademark, their associated legal restrictions are also ratcheting. It strikes me that application of the term intellectual property to information held in secret is roughly symmetric to application of the term public domain to disclosed information.
  • One of the order’s concerns is resources misappropriated “for commercial or competitive advantage or private financial gain, or by a commercial entity”; consider whether this is substantially more expansive or simply less ambiguous than “intended for or directed towards commercial advantage or private monetary compensation” found in certain “noncommercial” semicommons licenses.