Senators take on cyber spying

A bipartisan group of senators on Thursday introduced legislation to crack down on people and businesses that steal valuable economic secrets from American companies.

They say that the Deter Cyber Theft Act is necessary to protect U.S. firms from foreign hackers who try to break in, steal their valuable secrets and strategies and then ship that information abroad.

The bill comes days after the Obama administration filed landmark charges against a team of Chinese hackers for stealing trade secrets from American companies.

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“It is time to fight back back to protect American businesses and American innovation,” said Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.), in a statement. “Battling the wave of computer espionage targeting the American economy requires law enforcement actions such as this week’s indictment, and it requires action by Congress to hit those who profit from these crimes where they’ll feel it: in the wallet.”

Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) joined Levin to introduce the bill.

The Deter Cyber Theft Act would allow the Treasury Department to impose sanctions and freeze monetary assets of people behind the cyber snooping. Additionally, it would require the director of national intelligence to publish an annual report naming which countries target U.S. company information through computer espionage, as well as a watch list of egregious offenders, how stolen information is being used and what the federal government is doing about it.

“This bill will give us insight into those most culpable for cyber-based economic espionage aimed at U.S. innovation, and will disrupt those activities by authorizing the president to target with sanctions those exploiting our intellectual property for their financial gain,” McCain said.

The senators introduced a similar version of the bill last year. 

Earlier this week, the Justice Department filed criminal charges against five members of the Chinese military for stealing information from six U.S. companies. The charges were the first ever filed against a foreign government for espionage.