In my sci fi short story I'm working on, a company called Generation sometime in the future, develops a viral based treatment for a new kind of cancer that has arisen in young children. Around fifteen years later, the treatment was effective, but at this time begins causing mutations in teens who received the treatment as children. Having been used across the world, it now sparks a company crisis as people begin jumping ship, particularly executives.

One of these employees that jumps ship is the protagonist's father. Distraught with the lack of concern from company leadership, who don't care about trying to find a cure to the problem they helped create, the father and others steal valuable data on the virus from the company as the crisis unfolds, and then following their departure from the company, set up several new labs where they are making use of their data to try to find a cure.

All this laid out, my question is, what sorts of legal charges might the father face if he is found out?

Possible scenarios

  • local authorities find out first and are the ones to make the charges.
  • Generation finds out he was one of the ones involved, and a newly formed company by the old execs that takes control of Generation's assets makes the charges
  • the government makes the charges, but only after Generation's full amount of criminal negligence regarding management of the crisis is laid bare.

From what I am to understand, the father would probably be accused of some kind of embezzlement for stealing the data, but considering the fact that he and other employees that stole assets organized together to complete the act, I think that conspiracy may be involved as well.


For the sake of this question, let us base answers on current United States law, assuming that this company is also based in the country.

  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Commented Dec 3, 2021 at 4:33

3 Answers 3

  • Stealing trade secrets is a federal crime in the USA (Defend Trade Secrets Act, 1996).

  • Whatever other accessory charges the prosecutors may come up with, they may want to pile them on; computer misuse, for example.

  • On the other hand, public prosecutors in any country do not have to prosecute each and every crime their learn about. This is called prosecutorial discretion; the story may feature the dilemma of law enforcement officers and public prosecutors who have to decide whether to prosecute or not.

  • On the third hand, the bare bones of the company may have been bought by an investement fund laser-focused on profit, and they may drag the protagonist in civil courts looking for damages, compensation for breaching the non-disclosure agreements and sundry other wrongs. (The criminal courts and the civil courts belong to two entirely separate judicial systems. The story can feature a criminal trial and a civil lawsuit, only one of them, or none.)

  • On the fourth hand, a widely used treatment causing a wave of severe secondary effects in children is at first sight a clear sign of gross negligence and most likely corruption in the American Food and Drug Administration, the European Medicines Agency and other corresponding agencies in other countries, whose names I don't know. The public prosecutors may be too busy building cases against the corrupt officials to care about the saintly protagonist, and may even seek use them as a witness.

  • As you can see, there are numerous ramifications. It is your duty, as the author, to explore them during your meticulous research.

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    $\begingroup$ you shouldn't post answers to a question in need of refining. It causes issues with the revisions potentially invalidating your answer $\endgroup$
    – IT Alex
    Commented Dec 2, 2021 at 20:23
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    $\begingroup$ @ITAlex: It was originally a comment, but became way too long. I am ready to delete the answer if the question is edited significantly. (But my impression is that the querent simply did not know where to begin their research...) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Dec 2, 2021 at 20:24
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP despite my own feelings on the matter, there are plenty of meta posts that disagree with this approach. It leads to abandoned questions that end up closed with unsatisfactory questions/answers if Meta is to be believed. $\endgroup$
    – IT Alex
    Commented Dec 2, 2021 at 20:26
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    $\begingroup$ Also remember that you shouldn't be answering questions in comments either. Comments are ephemeral and will be deleted without warning. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Commented Dec 2, 2021 at 20:30
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    $\begingroup$ @ITAlex: Then I am happy to have helped a person. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Dec 2, 2021 at 21:14

In the United States, this would be CFAA charges. If you need the statutes themselves, it will be USC Title 18, section whatever. The way in which federal prosecutors stack charges, each and every file, login (if it required more than one), and data point can be charged separately.

The company in question would have to initiate a complaint, the feds wouldn't just do this on their own generally (unless someone higher up the food chain in the DOJ were to push for it, which isn't completely implausible but not highly likely either). The FBI would be the agency tasked with this investigation, and could compel the company to cooperate (assuming they didn't initiate a complaint). The complaint has to allege at least $5000 of damage, but that's never an obstacle (that's like maybe 30 or 40 hours of IT worker time, and it can be fudged).

Additional charges could be levied as biological weapons terrorism charges (this wouldn't be fair or just, but it would be par for the course with these guys). Some lab equipment now needs to be registered, licenses maintained, etc. Assuming the covert lab used any of that, those charges would stack too.

Most of these are PATRIOT laws or followups, enacted to deal with the Anthrax guy (remember him?).

If one of the patients dies, even unconnected with his own private research, he might be charged with the death as a homicide, along with all sorts of medical ethics charges.

Furthermore, even if his original connection to the problem is very minor (and non-criminal) he's likely to be set up as the patsy for the company's own crimes, and thus would be charged with the medical ethics violations, and all resulting deaths.

This will be 100% federal, 100% investigated by the FBI, etc. At least in the US. In our global world, Europe would quite possibly want to do their own thing too (not so different from our response) but they'll only get him if the US for some reason just ignores all of it.


I am no lawyer.

in any case this would probably be a civil case. not a criminal case.

local authorities find out first and are the ones to make the charges. first of all the the authorities are not the injured party here so i believe that they are not able to press charges. secondly how would this even happen? how would they stumble upon the lab. and would they then even be able to know that something may be wrong with the setup.

Generation finds out he was one of the ones involved, and a newly formed company by the old execs that takes control of Generation's assets makes the charges. no charges are pressed. Generation really really REALLY dous not want anything to end up in court. AT ALL.

the government makes the charges, but only after Generation's full amount of criminal negligence regarding management of the crisis is laid bare. like i said earlier. in us law i believe that the government is unable to press the charges. Generation would be allowed. they could charge them with theft and breach of contract. the outcome of this would be the most difficult to asses. what data was stolen. could they have obtained that some other way. what dous their contract say. how did they use that data. did they intend to profit. wistleblower protections may apply as well. so probably just fines or nothing.

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    $\begingroup$ This answer does not answer the question of what potential charges there should be. Do not answer questions that need revision $\endgroup$
    – IT Alex
    Commented Dec 2, 2021 at 20:28
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for your answer, this is extremely helpful. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 2, 2021 at 20:28
  • $\begingroup$ @ITAlex 1 nothing/wouldn't hapen. 2 dousn't end up in court. 3 fines or immunity. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 2, 2021 at 20:35
  • $\begingroup$ @PostlimFort none of those are legal charges. those are outcomes of legal charges. $\endgroup$
    – IT Alex
    Commented Dec 2, 2021 at 20:35
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    $\begingroup$ The local authorities aren't "the injured party" in a murder either and yet they still manage to prosecute them... $\endgroup$
    – Cadence
    Commented Dec 2, 2021 at 20:41

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