Today, industrial espionage is taking various different avatars and manifestations. People are using more and more innovative approaches to deal with industrial espionage. Since a large portion of industrial espionage is done using the digital format as also data and information in the electronic form, there are a number of legal issues that companies need to be extremely careful of.
Given, also, the fact that in India, respect for corporate data in the electronic form is virtually non-existent and, also, given the fact that India does not have any dedicated data protection and privacy law, people are more emboldened and encouraged to do with various aspects of industrial espionage.
Digital files in the form of digital maps, drawings, information and confidential data are invariably copied from industrial establishments, computer systems and networks where the focus on its cyber security aspects is not that much. Further, these kinds of clandestinely obtained electronic information are invariably then used for the purposes of selling, transferring or giving it to people who are not authorised to accept the same. Of course, people have to increasingly realise that such kind of activities are increasingly covered under the Information Technology Act, 2000.
If any person without the permission of another person enters into the computers, computer systems or computer networks and secures access or downloads, copies or extracts data without the permission of the actual owner thereof, the same actually is an action that exposes the concerned person to civil and criminal liability. The civil exposure could be paying damages by way of compensation up to Rupees five crore under the Information Technology Act, 2000. In addition, it could also expose the person concerned to criminal consequences which could potentially be a exposure to imprisonment ranging to three years and fine up to Rupees five lakh.
Unfortunately, most of the legal entities and industry establishments are not putting more focus on preventing these kinds of industrial espionage. Further, given their intrinsic nature and character, most of the cases of industrial espionage are invariably not reported, thus giving a false sense of complacency.
The existing ground level situation is pretty bad and people need to be made more aware of the legal consequences. Ignorance of law is no excuse in the eyes of law.
Apart from the actual losses being caused by to industrial units, the immense amount of reputational risks involved in terms of reporting any aspects of industrial espionage or any cases of industrial espionage to law enforcement agencies itself brings across various deterrence for companies. A lot of legal provisions exist but awareness about the same is relatively low.
Further, a lot of these legal provisions are not effectively enforced. We will very quickly have to come out of our so-called sense of complacency and insist on reporting matters of industrial espionage or else we will continue to let our industrial establishments and units bleed by its ill-effects.
(The author is an advocate in the Supreme Court of India)