The National Intelligence Service (NIS) has demanded more severe punishment for industrial espionage as the number of espionage cases is increasing year by year with damage to the country’s industries rising accordingly.
The counter-espionage agency said Tuesday it detected 29 cases of industrial espionage last year, which would have cost the country 35.5 trillion won if they had not been caught. Half of them involved big high-tech corporations. The number of detected case was six in 2003, but jumped to 26 in 2004.
``Only about one third of convicted people receive prison terms or are fined, while the rest get suspended sentences or were found not-guilty. They get light sentences because either it is their first offense or they are caught before selling what they have stolen,'' an NIS officer said over the telephone on condition of anonymity.
``It is disappointing that industrial spies are punished so little. They should not be regarded only as fraudsters or cheaters. They can cause huge damage to the nation's economy. We need stricter punishment for such criminals,'' the officer said.
According to South Korean law, those who attempt to transfer or sell core technologies to foreign companies or foreign countries can be sentenced to up to seven years in prison. But in reality, they rarely receive such punishment.
From 2003 to 2004, only 16 out of 249 convicted people were sentenced to actual jail terms. That means the ratio of persons who received real jail terms is significantly lower than the average number of criminal cases, which is 25.4 percent.
In the United States, people who smuggle out core technologies can be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison or fined up to $10 million. Other countries such as Japan, China, Taiwan and Germany all have stricter laws for those who commit or attempt to commit such crimes.
``We have been calling for strict punishment for industrial spies, but it is the court and the prosecution which should make the decision. We cannot tell them what to do. It is a very subtle issue between the prosecution and us,’’ the officer said.
Most of the technology transfers to China and other rival countries occurs in the information and communication fields. The NIS says the total loss for South Korea could have amounted to 82 trillion won over the past three years. But the actual damage could have been much higher than that, as the victims are often reluctant to cooperate with the intelligence service.
What is known to the outside world is only a tip of an iceberg,'' the officer said.There are many more unreported cases of industrial theft because the companies which were robbed of their technologies often do not report it to the police or the NIS and prefer to do investigations themselves. They are worried that such news could damage their reputation.’’
By Cho Jin-seo
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