Suit on Cisco's China activities broadened

Plaintiff's now say they have new evidence implicating Cisco in assisting government crackdown on dissidents

This is pretty much the story that won't die: Is Cisco aiding in the apprehension and torture of Chinese dissidents? Two recent reports indicate evidence may be mounting that implicates Cisco in such deeds.

Last week, the New York Times reported that an advocacy group claims to have evidence that Cisco customized its product to do just that - pinpoint and monitor communications among dissidents so the Chinese government could apprehend, interrogate and torture them. New Zealand's site had a follow up today.

In the reports, the Human Rights Law Foundation, a Washington group already suing Cisco over its practices in China, claims to have new evidence that Cisco tailored its gear to allow the government to monitor members of the religious group Falun Gong. The product at issue is a firewall, known as the Golden Shield, used by the government to filter Internet traffic.

The suit contends that government authorities tracked Falun Gong members using the Golden Shield and then apprehended them, arresting and torturing some, while one was beaten to death.  The Chinese government also uses Golden Shield to block Facebook and Twitter, as well as references to politically sensitive topics such as Tiananmen Square, 2010 Nobel Peace Prize Winner Liu Xiaobo - who was jailed for 11 years for his political writings -- and the Jasmine Revolution sweeping through the Middle East, states.

In the past, Cisco has said it does not tailor the equipment it sells to the Chinese government specifically for the purpose of tracking and monitoring dissidents. Indeed, Cisco said it sells China the same equipment it sells to public libraries in the U.S., and to global businesses and service providers.

To the new developments, Cisco issued this statement:

We are currently reviewing the amended complaint.  As we said in May when the lawsuit was filed, 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.

The new evidence is based on a PowerPoint marketing pitch Cisco made to the Chinese government in 2002, claiming that its products can recognize Falun Gong pictures among e-mail traffic; and proposing a public security database that would contain information on Chinese citizens - including "key personnel of 'Falun Gong' evil cult organization" - and be connected to firewalls and monitoring systems used to filter sensitive government content, and a video surveillance system. The presentation was leaked to the public, according to

Without Cisco's help Chinese officials would not have as easily been able to "obtain sensitive information such as home and work addresses, purchases, financial information, contact with other Falun Gong members, past Falun Gong activities, IP addresses and family information (used for interrogation purpose)".

Cisco said it doesn't typically build databases nor sell video surveillance equipment to China, as a matter of policy, the Times article states.

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