Counterfeiting is a blot on the electronics industry, but as discussed in the first part of this blog, the tougher legislation proposed by the US Congress addresses the problem but will not eradicate the challenge manufacturers face. (See: Some Problems Can’t Be Penalized Away, Part 1.)
Here's why. First, the pending legislation is written around trafficking in military goods and services and does not address commercially used components. Therefore, even if the pending legislation were to successfully stop “military part counterfeiters” dead in their tracks, it would not affect counterfeiters engaged in other goods. I'll concede that this legislation could eliminate some sources in the US that sell counterfeit components to the military, but even that won't make the fundamental problem go away.
That fundamental problem is that most counterfeit components are manufactured outside US jurisdiction. It will be difficult if not impossible to enforce the penalties on these sources. Without a way to stop counterfeiting at the source, there's not much chance that counterfeits will go away simply because of the threat of fines and prison sentences.
Which brings me to my second point. In the best of outcomes — military part counterfeiters stopped dead in their tracks, that is — the fundamental process of fake parts entering and coursing through the veins of our supply chain would not be altered in any way. Counterfeiting is an opportunistic criminal activity. If there's demand for a component, a source, and a supply chain on-ramp, you've got an infrastructure and an inherent process ready to enable illegal trafficking. Just add some motivated crooks.
The reality is that when parts become scarce, as they do as products approach or pass end-of-life, for example, sourcing becomes more and more difficult. Government buyers are currently allowed to purchase from virtually any source. Sophisticated counterfeiters capitalize on this, convincingly faking both components and their accompanying traceability. For these unethical suppliers, the fact that the components they supply could have a disastrous impact probably isn't their biggest concern.
Allow me to jump back for a moment to the DUI law analogy I made in the first part of this blog. According to the National Highway and Safety Administration's Website, nearly 12,000 people die in the US each year because of drunk driving. The site goes on to equate that statistic with being equal to 21 jumbo jets crashing each year.
Interestingly, when I compared the structural similarities of S. 1228 and Georgia's DUI penalties (other states' laws may be written differently), I noticed one striking difference in Georgia's law that bears pointing out: A fourth drunk driving conviction in Georgia is a felony if it occurs within 10 years of previous convictions, and while the law includes heavy fines and possible imprisonment, it also stipulates the felon may be ordered to install an Ignition Interlock device on all vehicles owned and operated by the offender.
That is not a fine; that is a process change. The offender is materially prevented from further driving while under the influence. As judges increasingly impose this type of penalty, drivers will not be able to contribute to DUI death toll statistics. Can you see where I'm headed with this?