Cisco Accused Of Helping China Track Dissidents

By Tracey E. Schelmetic May 23, 2011

Monday morning hot water for Cisco. The New York Times is reporting this morning that the company knowingly customized its technology to help the Chinese government hunt down members of the outlawed Falun Gong spiritual movement. The information comes statements made in a federal lawsuit filed last week by Falun Gong members. The lawsuit, which says is based on sales materials used internally by Cisco, also claims that the company used “inflammatory” Maoist-inspired language to sell to the Chinese government.

The lawsuit, which names a number of Cisco executives including CEO John T. Chambers, was filed in Federal District Court for the Northern District of California in San Jose on Thursday by the Human Rights Law Foundation, which is representing the Falun Gong members. It alleges that Cisco helped design the Chinese government's so-called “Golden Shield” firewall used to censor the Internet and keep track of dissident activity.

The lawsuit is not without precedent, unfortunately for Cisco. Back in 2008, Wired News journalist Sarah Stirland uncovered a leaked PowerPoint presentation, made for internal Cisco use, that detailed the commercial opportunities of the “Golden Shield” project, China's number one tool for Internet control. In a subsequent article in Wired News, Stirland accused Cisco of marketing its technology “specifically as a tool of repression,” a charge that Cisco denied. When the material surfaced three years ago, the company quickly disassociated itself from the presentation, calling it the unsanctioned work of a low-level employee.

This time, says the New York Times, the suit claims that a set of internal marketing presentations prove that the company is promoting its technology as ideal for targeting dissident activities.

“In one marketing slide, the goals of the Golden Shield are described as to 'douzheng evil Falun Gong cult and other hostile elements.' Douzheng is a Chinese term used to describe the persecution of undesirable groups. It was widely used by the Communist Party in the Cultural Revolution,” writes the Times.

Once again, the company is finding a need to defend itself. Once again, Cisco has maintained that there is “no basis” for the allegations and that it intends to “vigorously” defend itself.

“Cisco does not operate networks in China or elsewhere, nor does Cisco customize our products in any way that would facilitate censorship or repression,” the company stated.

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Tracey Schelmetic is a contributing editor for TechZone360. To read more of Tracey's articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Jennifer Russell

TechZone360 Contributor

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