Former Google AI engineer charged with stealing trade secrets from Chinese company

The Justice Department announced Wednesday the arrest of a former Google AI engineer on suspicion of stealing information about the company's advanced technology while planning to start his own company in China.

A 38-year-old Chinese national, Leon Ding (also known as Linwei Ding), was detained in Newark, California and charged with four counts of trade secret theft.

Justice Department officials say the incident signals that the U.S. government remains vigilant against attempts to illegally transfer advanced U.S. technology to China amid a Cold War-like technological arms race between the two countries. he claimed.

“The Department of Justice will not tolerate the theft of artificial intelligence or other advanced technologies that could jeopardize national security,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement.

If convicted, Ding could face up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $1 million.

According to an indictment filed March 5 in federal court in San Francisco, Ding was hired by Google in 2019 as a software engineer and worked on the company's supercomputing data centers. According to the indictment, he was working on software to help run machine learning and AI applications for Google customers.

According to prosecutors, Ding began uploading Google's confidential information to his personal Google Cloud account in May 2022, and by May 2023 had uploaded more than 500 files containing Google's confidential information.

This number of trade secret thefts includes the chip architecture and software design specifications for the Tensor Processing Unit and Graphics Processing Unit, which are the building blocks of the supercomputing center.

While still at Google, Ding became chief technology officer of Beijing Rongzhou Lianzhi Technology Co., Ltd., an AI company based in China, without informing Google of his position. Established a second company, Shanghai Zhisu Technology Co., Ltd. he company, the indictment said.

The FBI searched Ding's residence on January 6 and seized electronic devices and other evidence.

Matthew Axelrod, assistant secretary of the Commerce Department's Office of Export Enforcement, said in a statement: “Let today's announcement be a further warning: Those who seek to transfer sensitive U.S. technology to China are at risk of being on the wrong end of criminal charges. There is,” he said.

The Justice Department said the investigation against Ding was conducted by the Department of Justice and the Department of Commerce's Disruptive Technology Strike Force. The unit is a year-old group aimed at preventing U.S. technology from being acquired by “authoritarian regimes and hostile nation-states.”

Both the U.S. and Chinese governments view artificial intelligence as a strategic emerging technology with broad potential to provide critical capabilities to military and intelligence agencies while expanding economic output in the private sector. Last year, President Biden issued an AI executive order aimed at keeping the United States ahead of countries such as China in developing AI.

Ding, Beijing Rongzhou Lianzhi Technology and Shanghai Zhisu Technology could not be reached for comment.

Google spokesman Jose Castañeda said the company had referred the matter to federal authorities. “We have strict safeguards in place to prevent the theft of confidential commercial information and trade secrets. After investigation, we discovered that this employee had stolen numerous documents and we immediately closed the incident. “I have notified law enforcement,” he said.

Gerrit de Vink also contributed.

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