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US charges five Chinese army officers in cyber espionage case

[JURIST] The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] on Monday announced that a grand jury in the Western District of Pennsylvania brought hacking charges [press release] against the Chinese nationals in a case of cyber espionage. The indictment [text, PDF] alleges that the defendants were involved in computer hacking, economic espionage and other offenses directed at six US victims in the US nuclear power, metals and solar products industries. US Attorney General Eric Holder [official website] said that the case "represents the first ever charges against a state actor for this type of hacking." The indictment alleges that Wang Dong, Sun Kailiang, Wen Xinyu, Huang Zhenyu, and Gu Chunhui, who were officers in Unit 61398 of the Third Department of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA), among others known and unknown to the grand jury, hacked or attempted to hack into U.S. entities named in the indictment, while Huang and Gu supported their conspiracy by, among other things, managing infrastructure (e.g., domain accounts) used for hacking. There are 31 charges in total for all defendants.

In June the US government charged [JURIST report] former government contractor Edward Snowden with espionage for leaking top secret documents. The federal government brought criminal charges against him for theft of government property and violations of sections 793(d) and 798(a)(3) of the Espionage Act [texts, LII]. Legal scholars argue [JURIST op-ed] that the broad provisions of the Espionage Act raise significant First Amendment [text, LII] concerns, mainly that government officials can control all debates by allowing favorable leaks while punishing embarrassing or critical ones. In April the US House of Representatives [official website] passed a controversial cybersecurity bill [HR 624, PDF], known as the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), that allows corporations to share customers' personal data with other firms and the US government, even in the face of a company contract prohibiting such activity.

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