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May 20, 2014

U.S. charges Chinese government with cyber-spying on American businesses


The U.S. has charged five Chinese military officials of hacking American businesses to steal trade secrets for the Chinese government.

The new indictments say the hackers targeted six American firms in the nuclear, metals and solar products industries.

However, China says that the U.S. government is doing the same according to documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who is now in asylum in Russia.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder countered that all nations gather intelligence, but what “distinguishes this case is that we have a state-sponsored entity, state-sponsored individuals using intelligence tools to gain commercial advantage.”

The indictments are part of a growing U.S.- China struggle over cyber-espionage. In October 2012, the House Intelligence Committee took aim at two major Chinese telecom companies, Huawei corporation and ZTE technologies, for their ties to the Chinese government. It warned U.S. companies against doing business with them.

Tensions are also high between the two countries as Vietnam and the Philippines seek American support in their confrontations with China in the South China Sea.

Despite the indictment, China gave no sign it has plans to hand over the suspects to U.S. authorities.

Warm up questions
  1. Where is China? What is the U.S.’s political relationship with China? Would you say it is very good or very strained? Explain your answer.
  2. What is cyber-spying? Who are the typical targets of cyber-spying?
Discussion questions
  1. Who did the Chinese government allegedly spy on? Why might they be interested in these businesses?
  2. Why is the U.S. Department of Justice involved in this story?
Writing prompt

Stealing trade secrets from others is illegal, but for this exercise try to focus on the ethical reasons why cyber-hacking is wrong as well as if there are any circumstances when hacking is morally just. Pick your three strongest arguments about the ethics of hacking (either for, against, or a combination of both) and defend them using examples (real or hypothetical).

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