WiSKoS - Economic and industrial espionage in Germany and Europe

The phenomena of economic and industrial espionage are as diffuse and ambiguous as the terminology. Besides scenarios of 'classic' espionage by intelligence agencies of a foreign state they also include incidents of competitive (corporate) espionage, commercial spying or industrial theft. The WiSKoS project defines economic espionage as acts of spying conducted by and for state agents while industrial espionage in accordance with the Oxford English dictionary is defined as 'spying directed towards discovering the secrets of a rival industrial company, manufacturer, etc.' Despite some variety in the modi operandi used and the intentions behind these crimes, they all have the same aim, i.e., information theft or, in more general terms, illegal obtainment of knowhow.

Today, the crimes in focus have a mixed character, which combines elements of crimes against state security (traditional approach) and economic crime (modern approach). In addition they are located at the intersection of conventional (physical) crime and cybercrime. As a consequence, penal regulation is often fragmented. The same is true with regard to jurisdiction and the applicable procedural rules which sometimes also involve aspects of political expediency.

As unclear as the legal background is also the state of criminological information about the sector. On the one hand, there is a considerable amount of unreported crime.  On the other hand, due to the ambiguity of the phenomenon, statistical information is often incomplete and sometimes even incorrect. Furthermore, literature is scarce, and there is not much up-to-date empirical research available. This is why the Max Planck Institute for Foreign and International Criminal Law (Freiburg, Germany) and the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research (Karlsruhe, Germany) are jointly conducting a comparative research project about economic and industrial espionage in Europe which is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research of Germany (BmBF).

  • Last update: 12 January 2017
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