Magazine article Business Credit

Protect Your Organization's Proprietary Information and Avoid Breaking U.S. Law

Magazine article Business Credit

Protect Your Organization's Proprietary Information and Avoid Breaking U.S. Law

Article excerpt

Every day companies unwittingly violate U.S. export law. Whether they are transferring technical information to a joint venture partner in a European country or shipping a computer CD to an overseas client, they are potentially putting their own company at risk. The penalties for such errors are daunting, and ignorance of the law is not a defense. For a mere administrative ("civil") infraction, the penalty is up to $100,000 per occurrence. For intentional misdeeds, which are accorded criminal penalties, well, let's not even go there. Such are the dangers of operating in a global environment.

Few business executives realize that these laws apply to a far wider range of products and technical information than the obvious military armaments. Computer software, including off-the-shelf commercial office programs, is in many cases subject to export controls, as are many other seemingly commercial items having a potential dual use.

The loss of proprietary advantage is an even larger danger. As industrial espionage increases, companies must find new ways to keep their information out of competitor's hands. Interestingly, a recent report out of the U.K. placed France on equal standing with Russia as an intelligence threat, not for military secrets, but rather industrial espionage. Unfortunately, most companies believe these threats only apply to military, space or ultra-high technology markets. Not so!

Today, businesses in many run-of-the-mill industries are clearly at risk. Worse yet, many still do not realize it, even after they have been stung. Business plans, customer lists, technology and other strategic assets are often lost or severely compromised without the company knowing it until long afterward, if ever. Have you ever wondered how your foreign competitors suddenly "got so smart" or why they "seem to know every move we make"?

There's no doubt these problems are serious. The question then becomes: Is there a practical answer, short of a paranoia, that inhibits proprietary information loss between customers, competitors and suppliers alike? Yes! Each company needs certain policies that keep their information from suddenly appearing in the wrong hands. These include:

* A written policy regarding the exchange of technical data between the organization's U.S. and any offshore company owned or representative offices and personnel.

* A written policy regarding employees taking technical and business data, both hard copy and electronic, home or downloading it remotely after hours. …

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