- An Apple employee has been arrested and charged with stealing trade secrets from Apple’s self-driving-car division, Project Titan, NBC’s Bay Area affiliate first reported on Tuesday.
- A recently unsealed FBI affidavit reportedly accused a Chinese national named Jizhong Chen of taking thousands of files containing proprietary Apple material.
- Chen is the second Chinese Apple employee in six months to be arrested and charged with trying to steal trade secrets from the company.
- The arrests come against the backdrop of the trade war between the US and China, and charges brought by the US against a Chinese telecommunications firm.
The FBI has charged an Apple employee with stealing trade secrets from the company’s secretive Project Titan, its self-driving-car division, NBC’s Bay Area affiliate first reported on Tuesday, citing a criminal complaint.
Project Titan has been a subject of speculation since it launched in 2014. It was initially believed to be working on an electric car, but executive hires in 2016 pointed toward autonomous driving. It has recently undergone some major reshuffling as Apple laid off 200 employees tied to the project earlier this month.
According to CNBC, the unsealed FBI affidavit said Apple hired Jizhong Chen, a Chinese national, in June as a hardware engineer for its self-driving-car project.
He aroused suspicion when fellow employees saw him taking photos. Apple then asked to look at his personal devices and found “over two thousand files containing confidential and proprietary Apple material, including manuals, schematics and diagrams,” backed up on a personal hard drive in violation of Apple’s policies, the affidavit said, according to CNBC.
According to CNBC, the affidavit said Chen said the images were an “insurance policy” because he was applying to other jobs after being placed on an Apple performance-improvement plan in December, but Apple found he had collected information before then.
Chen told Apple he was applying for positions inside the company, but it learned he’d also applied to two outside jobs, including one with a direct competitor in autonomous driving in China, and it suspended him without pay on January 11, the affidavit said, according to CNBC.
He was arrested one day before he was due to fly to China, NBC Bay Area reported. An attorney for Chen, Daniel Olmos, declined to comment to The Wall Street Journal.
Chen is the second Chinese Apple employee to be charged with stealing trade secrets in the past six months. In July, federal agents stopped a former Apple employee named Xiaolang Zhang at the San Jose airport after he bought what authorities described as a last-minute ticket to China. His indictment alleged he had a confidential 25-page document with schematic drawings of a circuit board for an autonomous vehicle.
Zhang is also being represented by Olmos, who said he had pleaded not guilty to theft of trade secrets, The Journal reported.
The arrests come against the backdrop of the trade war between the US and China, and charges brought by the US against Huawei, a Chinese telecommunications firm. On Tuesday, the US formally requested the extradition of Huawei’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, after charging Huawei with violating US sanctions on Iran and stealing trade secrets from T-Mobile.
Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Business Insider.