New evidence in Cisco/Falun Gong suits?

Report says plaintiffs have uncovered surveillance software implanted in databases

New evidence has reportedly emerged in the case of Cisco and a human rights group accusing the company of customizing its equipment for the Chinese government to oppress practitioners of Falun Gong. The Human Rights Law Foundation says it has evidence and "expert analysis" that shows Cisco customized its gear for government surveillance by adding software that combed Falun Gong databases and shared the information with Chinese government agencies, according to this report in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Cisco is facing two suits alleging it customized equipment sold to the Chinese government so it could explicitly monitor Falun Gong activities, and apprehend and torture practitioners. Cisco has vehemently denied the allegations.

The latest development revolves around new evidence apparently discovered by the Human Rights Law Foundation that indicates that the level of customization to Cisco products for surveillance purposes was more widespread than initially thought. According to the Chronicle report, which attributes the information to Terri Marsh, executive director of the Human Rights Law Foundation:

It is now clear that Cisco took extra steps to integrate security software with Falun Gong database centers for the purpose of surveilling Falun Gong adherents. Those databases made information available to psychiatric hospitals, the prison management system, intelligence analysis systems, and other agencies that could have used personal details to justify torture or force confessions. 

"They find out everything they can about their family, friends, financial situations - their fears, psychology and pressure points," Marsh said.

Legally, proof that Cisco customized its products to that extent can signal intent, which would strengthen a case against it for aiding and abetting a crime, the Chronicle states. Marsh "hopes" to file an amended complaint with the new evidence and perhaps present it at a hearing later this month, the report states.

Cisco doubts the existence of any new evidence beyond what was already reported last summer. This week, the company reiterated its previous statements denying that it customized its equipment to suppress Falun Gong:

"There is no basis for these allegations against Cisco, and we intend to vigorously defend against them.  Cisco does not operate networks in China or elsewhere, nor does Cisco customize our products in any way that would facilitate censorship or repression.  Cisco builds equipment to global standards which facilitate free exchange of information, and we sell the same equipment in China that we sell in other nations worldwide in strict compliance with US government regulations."

Cisco is coming under fire for its involvement in the Chinese government's Golden Shield censorship program. Golden Shield - also known as the Great Firewall of China - is a large-scale surveillance system used by the government to filter Internet content and monitor digital activity, and block sites like Facebook and Twitter.

The suits against Cisco allege that Cisco knew the Chinese government wanted to use Golden Shield to persecute Falun Gong practitioners.

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