If you needed a reason to not like Cisco.
Chinese citizens who suffered forced detention, torture, and a panoply of brutal human rights abuses at the hands of the Chinese government have been engaged in a high profile court case against Silicon Valley mainstay Cisco Systems for many years. Those Chinese citizens suffered yet another indignity in a California court a couple of weeks ago: a district judge dismissed the case against Cisco without even giving them the chance to gather evidence on the key point where the court found them wanting. The court noted that even though Cisco may have designed and developed the Golden Shield system for the purpose of tracking, identifying and facilitating the capture of Chinese religious minorities, Cisco would not be held liable because it didn’t do enough in the U.S. to facilitate human rights abuses.
No tech company should be held accountable when governments misuse general use products to engage in human rights abuses. This isn’t about bare routers or server logs. The case alleged and presented some strong early evidence that Cisco did far more – including:
- A library of carefully analyzed patterns of Falun Gong Internet activity (or “signatures”) that enable the Chinese government to uniquely identify Falun Gong Internet users;
- Highly advanced video and image analyzers that Cisco marketed as the “only product capable of recognizing over 90% of Falun Gong pictorial information;”
- Several log/alert systems that provide the Chinese government with real time monitoring and notification based on Falun Gong Internet traffic patterns;
- Applications for storing data profiles on individual Falun Gong practitioners for use during interrogation and “forced conversion” (i.e., torture);
It also included a presentation by Cisco to the Chinese authorities highlighting the special tools Cisco offered for persecuting what it called “Falun Gong evil religion.” Using such terms about any ethnic or religious group in an internal presentation regarding a government project should be a red flag for anyone concerned about human rights.
The court acknowledged these allegations, noting that the complaint alleges “individual features customized and designed specifically to find, track and suppress Falun Gong,” and that the tools were actually used for those purposes: “Golden Shield provided the means by which all the Plaintiffs were tracked, detained and tortured.” The complaint also alleged that much of Cisco’s work building the specific tools to target this religious minority was conducted from its San Jose offices.