Fired Tech Worker Denies Stealing Secrets

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — A fired Silicon Valley tech worker pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to computer fraud charges related to his alleged theft of trade secrets from his former employer last year.
Jing Zeng, 43, of San Ramon, was arrested at the San Francisco International Airport in August 2015 as he was about to board a plane for Shanghai.
Zeng worked as director of global infrastructure and later became vice president of operations for Machine Zone. The Palo Alto-based company makes the popular mobile game app, “Game of War: Fire Age,” which boasts more than 1 million global users a day. JP Morgan valued the company at $3 billion in 2014, according to Reuters.
After Zeng learned the company was about to fire him in July last year, he erased the contents of his work laptop and accessed proprietary information through Machine Zone’s confidential database, according to the Aug. 12 superseding indictment.
The indictment says Zeng “instructed and advised” an outsider “to download and install a beta version of a newly developed and unrealized mobile video game and to test the game from within China on a mobile phone.”
According to an FBI affidavit filed last year, Zeng claimed he had accessed the company’s database only to “assess how well the company was doing in order to assess the value of his stock options.”
But the affidavit alleged that Zeng had transferred large swaths of confidential company data onto external hard drives and refused to turn the hard drives over to the company unless he was given a larger 6-to-7-month severance package.
In a June 13 motion to dismiss the charges, Zeng accused the government of using an overbroad interpretation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act to prosecute him.
Zeng says the statute was intended to criminalize hacking and damaging computers used in interstate commerce, and that deleting software from his company laptop does not rise to the level of a criminal offense.
Because the statute has “not kept up with technology,” the scope of the law has remained unclear, Zeng says.
“The government has repeatedly sought to exploit that uncertainty by prosecuting borderline cases,” Zeng states in his motion to dismiss. “It has turned garden variety employment disputes – more properly handled as civil matters – into federal criminal cases.”
Zeng faces three counts of intentionally causing damage to a protected computer, intentionally accessing a computer without authorization, and aiding, abetting or willfully causing unauthorized access.
If found guilty, Zeng could serve a maximum 11 years in prison and pay $350,000 in fines.
Zeng’s attorney, Thomas Carlucci, declined to comment on the case after his client pleaded not guilty in U.S. Magistrate Judge Sallie Kim’s courtroom Wednesday morning.
Zeng is expected back in court before U.S. District Judge James Donato on Oct. 26 for a hearing on his motion to dismiss the criminal charges.

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