Apple calls alleged self-driving car spies flight risks

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Apple told a federal court that ex-employees shouldn’t be trusted to visit China after being arrested for stealing secrets from an autonomous car project.
Photo: Brett Sayles/Pexels CC

Apple thinks that two men accused of stealing secrets from its mysterious self-driving car project are likely to flee the country if they aren‘t closely watched.

Despite the drama surrounding their arrests, what makes this case most interesting is that it absolutely confirms that Apple has a self-driving car in development.

Xiaolang Zhang and Jizhong Chen were arrested separately, several months apart. But both are accused of trying to steal secrets from Apple’s autonomous car project. The former employees were caught with computers full of Apple’s intellectual property.

Both were born in China, and were each was taken into custody shortly before returning to their home country.

That’s quite likely why Apple told the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California today that it has “deep concerns” that Zhang and Chen will disappear before their trials, according to Reuters.

According to their lawyer, the two want to visit their families in China. They are out on bail now, but their locations are being tracked, and they haven’t been allowed to leave the country.

The federal court hasn’t yet decided if Zhang and Chen will be permitted to go to China for a visit. But the top-secret missile plans Chen supposedly had are surely going to complicate the decision.

Apple’s autonomous car! Don’t forget about that!

Apple has kept quiet about developing a self-driving car as much as possible, but the arrest of these two made that difficult.

For example, an official criminal complaint written by FBI Special Agent Eric Proudfoot said “Zhang was hired at Apple starting December 7, 2015, to work on a project to develop software and hardware for use in autonomous vehicles.”

After that came to light, Apple CEO Tim Cook could hardly deny that a self-driving car is in development.

However, little is known about this project. Details leak out, more or less reliable, but when the Apple Car will hit the roads anyone’s guess.