On March 1st, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, along with GOP members of the state’s House of Representatives and Senate, announced legislation to address corporate espionage and foreign influence in Florida. In public remarks about the proposed legislation, Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls expressed concern about the threat of China’s influence on local governments and university systems, stating “that there are no limits to the depths to which other countries, especially China, will go to steal our science and technology.”
The proposed legislation consists of two bills. The “Eliminating Corporate Espionage Act”, seeks to increase penalties for corporate espionage by making it a second-degree felony for committing trade secret theft or trafficking “with the intent to benefit a foreign government, foreign agent, or other foreign entity against the interest of the state.” The bill has been introduced and will now be reviewed by the relevant Senate committees.
The second bill, SB 2010, would mandate Florida state agencies and political subdivisions—including higher education institutions—to disclose to the Florida Department of Financial Services any gifts or grants with a value of $50,000 or more “from any foreign source.” The proposed law would also require each of its state universities to establish “an international travel approval and monitoring program.” This program would require “preapproval and screening . . . for any foreign travel and foreign employment-related activities engaged in by all faculty, researchers, and research department staff.” The bill was filed Tuesday, March 2nd and has yet to be formally introduced in the Florida Senate. Both bills appear to have a strong chance of becoming law due to strong support from Republican Governor DeSantis and leaders of both the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and Senate.
The legislation comes on the heels of the United States Department of Justice’s (DOJ) early February indictment of a former University of Florida professor. The DOJ charged Professor Lin Yang for fraudulently obtaining $1.75 million in federal grant money from the National Institutes of Health. The DOJ alleges that Professor Yang concealed the support he received from the Chinese government in an effort to further the Chinese government’s interest in obtaining foreign intellectual property.
As the Biden administration enters its second month, it is not clear how it will either continue or change the previous administration’s approach in addressing increasing concerns of China’s economic espionage in the United States. Earlier this week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken in his first major foreign policy speech stated that the U.S.-China relationship is the “biggest geopolitical test of the 21st Century.” Recent U.S. Congressional activity suggests legislative reform targeting unlawful economic interference sponsored by the government of China. Last December, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed the “Protecting American Intellectual Property Act,” a bipartisan proposal which would require Congressional reports of individual or firms that have engaged, benefitted, or materially assisted in the significant threat of U.S. trade secrets. This is strong indication—as we recently predicted—that the Biden administration will continue to make theft of U.S. intellectual property a top national security priority.