Legal Report: China Expands Anti-Espionage Laws
Drug trafficking. A federal court sentenced Erlinda Ramos-Bobadilla, the matriarch of the Montes-Bobadilla drug-trafficking organization, to 20 years in prison for her involvement in trafficking cocaine into the United States.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the organization worked with other traffickers to transport cocaine through Honduras and into Guatemala and Mexico. From there, it was transported into and distributed within the United States.
Along with direct involvement in the drug trafficking activities of the group, Ramos-Bobadilla was also active in bribery and violent acts—including orchestrating murder, the DOJ said. (United States v. Erlinda Ramos-Bobadilla, et al., U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, No. 15-cr-290, 2023)
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Trade secrets. An Allied Universal subsidiary, U.S. Security Associated, was awarded $17 million in a civil lawsuit against AGS Pro, Inc., and associated individuals over claims of misappropriation of trade secrets, breach of fiduciary duty, and other allegations.
The Los Angeles, California, jury also awarded punitive damages of $2 million each from AGS and Randy Andrews, one of the associated individuals. (U.S. Security Associates, Inc., v. Andrews, Second Appellate Court of California, No. B300675, 2023)
Workplace violence. The charges of involuntary manslaughter against Alec Baldwin were dropped. Baldwin was previously charged over his involvement in the shooting and death of a cinematographer on the set of the movie Rust in October 2021.
Baldwin’s trial was scheduled to begin in May. As the charges were dismissed “without prejudice,” the case could be refiled.
The victim, Halyna Hutchins, was killed after a live bullet was fired from a prop gun that Baldwin was handling.
Although the criminal charges have been dropped, the filing noted that this was because “new facts were revealed that demand further investigation and forensic analysis” that could not be completed before the preliminary hearing scheduled for 3 May. (State of New Mexico v. Alexander Rae Baldwin III, 1st Judicial District Court for Santa Fe County in New Mexico, No. D-0101-cr-202300039, 2023)
Espionage. The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress revised China’s anti-espionage laws, the first amendments to the laws since 2014.
The changes broaden the scope of what is considered espionage, now including any actions, data, files, or materials that state authorities deem a threat to national security. Another change is that the term spying also includes cyberattacks.
The changes will be in effect on 1 July 2023.
The vagueness of the laws means that foreign executives, journalists, organizations, and even academics could be at further legal risk. The changes empower state security officers to look into anything on a person suspected of engaging in espionage—which could be as simple as someone whose identity is unclear.
Authorities can also investigate electronic equipment and suspected facilities, plus seize any documents, data, materials, or items that are deemed relevant.
In previous instances where someone is arrested for espionage against the Chinese government, someone accused faces a prison term of 10 years to life. The country’s justice system, not noted for its transparency, boasts a more than 99 percent conviction rate, according to The Guardian.
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Hate speech. Ireland is considering a bill that would restrict free speech, specifically that even the possession of material legally labeled as hateful could result in a prison sentence. The “Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences) Bill 2022” (Bill 105 of 2022) would also place presumption of guilt on the person accused. It is currently being considered by the Seanad Éireann.
TikTok. Montana’s state legislators approved a bill that, if signed by the governor, would be the first to ban TikTok on personal devices.
The bill (SB 0419) would prohibit the app from operating in the state—making it illegal to use the app on any smart device or to provide the option to download the app. TikTok or mobile app stores found violating the law would be “liable in the amount of $10,000 for each discrete violation and is liable for an additional $10,000 each day thereafter that the violation continues,” according to the bill. It also noted that a discrete violation is defined as every time a user accesses the app, if offered the ability to access it, or offered a chance to download it.
Legislators proposed the bill, Ban Tik-Tok in Montana, in February 2023, citing concerns over how user data is accessed and shared with the People’s Republic of China and how the app “fails to remove, and may even promote, dangerous content that directs minors to engage in dangerous activities.”
If enacted, it would be effective at the beginning of 2024.
More than 30 other state bans on the video sharing app have limited TikTok’s reach to devices used by government employees.
Underage privacy. The United Kingdom’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) hit social media video app TikTok with a £12.7 million fine after finding that the app failed to lawfully manage children’s personal data.
An investigation determined that “TikTok allowed up to 1.4 million UK children under 13 to use its platform in 2020, despite its own rules not allowing children that age to create an account,” according to the ICO. The app was also ineffective in removing underage users although its terms of service state that users must be at least 13 years old. The privacy watchdog also noted that the personal data of these children was used without parental consent.
“TikTok should have known better. TikTok should have done better,” said UK information commissioner John Edwards.
The original fine was set at £27 million, but this was later decreased.
Tasers. The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) found that the department (DOI) has room for improvement when it comes to its policies, oversight, and training for taser use.
The OIG initiated an evaluation after an “increased interest in law enforcement’s uses of force and associated techniques and practices,” according to the report. “We found the DOI can improve its oversight of tasers to reduce the risk of injury to the public and law enforcement officers.”
The report indicated that the DOI was still operating under an interim policy implemented in 2016. “Further, although the interim DOI taser policy requires the bureaus to establish and implement procedures that include DOI taser policy requirements, none of the bureaus has done so,” the report said.
Other areas of concern identified in the DOI’s investigation included a gap in reporting procedures for when tasers are used, failures to thoroughly review incident reports, inconsistent and incomplete taser recertification training, and that DOI officers failed to routinely test tasers in accordance with bureau policies.
“Although DOI taser policy classifies tasers as less-than-lethal weapons, they still carry the risk of causing serious harm or death,” the report said. “Inconsistent and insufficiently detailed policies for taser use can leave officers without a clear understanding of how they are expected to react to situations in the field, and how—of it they are permitted—to use tasers in those situations.”
The OIG made 10 recommendations to improve the use of such weapons. These recommendations include finalizing and implementing a department-wide taser policy, with clear instructions on incident reports and standards on reviews and after-incident actions. The OIG also recommended updates to the department’s training program.
Workplace safety. The U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) issued online retail giant Amazon with a $15,625 citation after finding that multiple workers at a fulfillment facility did not receive sufficient medical care after sustaining workplace injuries.
At the facility in Castleton, New York, at least six employees suffered head injuries and four suffered back injuries between August 2022 to mid-April 2023, and they “did not receive time, necessary medical care,” according to OSHA. “Injured workers were returned to their jobs, and, in many cases, their injuries became worse as a result.”
This is not the first time OSHA issued the Castleton facility a citation. The agency previously found ergonomic and recordkeeping violations present. Amazon was also previously issued citations across the country—including three previous citations just in 2023.
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Also of Interest
Security Management reports on when security incidents and interests intersect with the courts, legislation, and regulatory agencies. The following stories are ones that we’re keeping on our radar as they develop or conclude.
Active attacker. A Wisconsin man was charged with one count of attempting to cause damage by means of fire or an explosive after firebombing a Madison, Wisconsin, office building. According to the DOJ, Hridindu Sankar Roychowdhury was arrested in Boston, Massachusetts, where he was trying to travel to Guatemala.
Armed protester. A U.S. Army sergeant was found guilty of murder after fatally shooting an armed protester in 2020 in Texas.
Bribery. Zhang Li, the billionaire CEO of a Chinese development company, is accused of paying kickbacks in exchange for receiving permits for a construction project in San Francisco, California. A London court is hearing the case.
Bribery. The CEO of a major defense contractor headquartered in Malta and with operations in the UK, UAE, Singapore, and the United States was charged with bribery.
Celebrity protection. Singer Billie Eilish won her petition for a restraining order against the man she found shirtless standing outside of her Los Angeles, California, home. This is the second restraining order Eilish successfully petitioned for in 2023.
Chemical attack. German investigators arrested an Iranian man accused of planning a deadly chemical attack.
Child labor. Packers Sanitation Services allegedly employed children to clean meatpacking plants, according to the U.S. Labor Department.
Corporate negligence. Payments company Block faces a class action lawsuit after a data breach compromised roughly 8.2 million users.
Cybersecurity breach. Australian telecommunications company Optus faces a class action lawsuit over a cybersecurity breach in 2022 that compromised roughly 1.2 million customers.
Cyberstalking. A federal jury found a deputy U.S. Marshal guilty of cyberstalking, perjury, and obstruction. Pretending to be a woman he was previously in a relationship with, Ian Diaz told men she wanted to engage in a “rape fantasy” as part of an effort to have the woman assaulted.
Drug bust. A joint operation by the Albanian and Italian authorities resulted in the arrests of several criminal group members who are accused of trafficking cocaine, cannabis, and heroin.
Elderly abuse. Two people allegedly conned millions of dollars from a Florida doctor and fraudulently charged his family for pretending to find the doctor after his disappearance.
Equity. Spain is close to passing a gender parity law mandating that boards of publicly traded companies must be at least 40 percent female.
Excessive force. A St. Louis, Missouri, hospital faces a lawsuit after hospital security officers arrested and allegedly aggressively confronted a patient suffering from stage 4 renal failure.
Firearms. The Canadian federal government has proposed a ban on assault-style firearms.
Flight cancellations. The U.S. Department of Justice has joined an ongoing investigation—initially opened by the Department of Transportation—into Southwest Airlines cancelling roughly 16,000 flights in December 2022.
Fraud. Europol arrested suspected members of the Franco-Israeli gang behind a 38-million-euro CEO fraud, laundering their gains through multiple bank accounts in the EU, China, and Israel.
Fraud. Three military contractors were convicted by a federal jury in Georgia for conspiring to defraud the United States and major fraud.
Gang violence. El Salvador’s state of emergency to combat gang activity and has received widespread support from the public while also receiving criticisms for human rights abuses.
Healthcare protection. Multiple Florida residents were charged with federal crimes linked to attacks on pregnancy resource facilities in the state.
Human trafficking. A federal grand jury indited a Wisconsin man with labor and sex trafficking, production of child pornography, and money laundering.
Immigration. Concerned over a lack of skilled workers, Germany is proposing a migration package that would update its immigration, residency, and citizenship laws.
Immigration. French legislators—who are considering an immigration bill that would support regularization for undocumented workers and expand the ability to deport foreigners who commit crimes—have encountered widespread public pushback.
Insurrection. Five people allegedly attempted to violently overthrow Serbia’s president.
Legalization. Germany announced its intent to legalize the sale and consumption of recreational cannabis, allowing anyone 21 years or older to legally purchase cannabis and decriminalize recreational private use.
LGBTQ. The Ugandan parliament passed a bill that could mean a 20-year prison sentence or even death sentence for anyone who identifies as LGBTQ+, criminalizing promoting, supporting, or abetting same-sex activities.
Maritime rescue. The Italian government recently approved a sea rescue law that punishes both migrants attempting to enter the country via maritime channels and humanitarian ships that try to save migrants’ lives at sea.
Marketing. Vape manufacturer Juul Labs reached a $7.9 million settlement with West Virginia, closing accusations that it was targeting teenagers in the state through its advertising. This settlement is the latest with various other states, including Iowa and Pennsylvania.
Mass shootings. The Texas Senate introduced a school safety bill that hopes to prevent mass shootings by addressing radio interoperability in rural areas, increasing school safety, improving emergency response protocols, and creating a monument to mass shooting victims.
Mental health risks. Arkansas sued TikTok and parent company ByteDance, claiming the video sharing platform harms users and violated the state’s Deceptive Trade Practices Act.
Noncompete clause. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission closed its public comment period for its proposed new rule to ban employers from forcing noncompete agreements on their workers.
Online safety. The UK government published its Online Safety Bill, which aims to make the Internet a little safer by knuckling down on illegal content, including child sexual abuse content and other harmful or age-inappropriate content.
Organized retail crime. The U.S. Senate introduced two separate bills to try to combat and discourage organized retail crime.
Police killing. In a deal to settle a lawsuit with the victim’s surviving family, the United States agreed to a $5 million settlement over the 2017 police shooting of Bijan Ghaisar.
Ransomware. Canadian law enforcement officials arrested a suspect accused of participating in LockBit ransomware attacks, which resulted in victims all over the world millions of dollars.
Search and seizure. The UK’s House of Commons is in the final stages of considering and approving the Public Order Act 2023, which would widen police officers stop and search powers and criminalize certain actions related to protests.
Sexual abuse. A former federal correctional officer is accused of sexually abusing an inmate in federal custody. Lenton Jerome Hatten allegedly engaged in sexual acts with an inmate while working as a sports specialist for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, according to the DOJ.
Sexual assault. A former federal corrections officer, Jose Viera, was sentenced to 120 months in prison, as well as three years of supervised release, for sexually assaulting a woman in custody in December 2020.
Sex trafficking. A federal grand jury charged a Tennessee man with sex trafficking by force, fraud, or coercion.
Smuggling. Two U.S. citizens were arrested for illegally exporting sophisticated avionics equipment to Russian companies.
Social media. With support from Brazil’s federal government and a majority of the Supreme Court, the Fake News Bill is being considered by Brazilian legislators. If approved, the bill would regulate social media—mandating that social media and messaging apps, plus search platforms, withdraw or reduce accounts and posts that spread criminal content.
Threat assessment. A Virginia bill hopes to refine how colleges assess threats after a University of Virginia shooting. If passed, the bill would require universities to act quicker.