When evil becomes just another way to make money

I’m profoundly disturbed by two reports in the Sydney Morning Herald. The first claims:

Cisco, one of the world’s largest technology companies, is being sued by Chinese political prisoners for allegedly providing the technology and expertise used by the Chinese Communist Party to monitor, censor and suppress the Chinese people.

Daniel Ward, of US law firm Ward & Ward, has brought the case on behalf of Du Daobin, Zhou Yuanzhi, Liu Xianbin and 10 unnamed others.

. . .

Cisco has publicly stated that it helped the CCP build its Golden Shield and Policenet systems. In the legal complaint, seen by Fairfax Media, Cisco is accused of training Chinese engineers in how to use its technology to carry out surveillance of online activity and suppress dissident activity.

“With the assistance of Cisco, the CCP is now capable of detecting, identifying and tracking perceived threats to the CCP’s power, and blocking ‘harmful’ websites,” the complaint reads.

The case, which was filed in June but received minimal media coverage, is being funded by the Laogai Research Foundation, whose executive director, Harry Wu, spent 19 years in Chinese labour camps but now lives in America. Mr Wu has spent years raising awareness of human rights abuses in China and was the driving force behind the case against Yahoo, which was settled for an undisclosed amount.

“Cisco is a company that would do business with any partner so long as it turns a profit, even at the expense of our people’s rights and freedoms,” Mr Wu said recently.

In a leaked internal Cisco presentation from 2002, seen by Fairfax Media, the company reveals how its products can address China’s goals of “maintaining stability”, “stop the network-related crimes” and “combat ‘Falun Gong‘ evil religion and other hostiles”.

The document also has a page discussing “Networked prisons and jails”, describing how information about a suspect travels through Cisco’s system from the time a suspect is first jailed to when they are released. The system links jails and police departments and Mr Wu argues it “directly aided in tracking down dissidents and keeping them under oppressive surveillance”.

“They aren’t just selling routers to a corrupt regime. They are selling the technology, training and software specifically designed to monitor, censor and suppress the Chinese people,” said Mr Ward.

“And they are doing so knowing full well how the CCP treats dissenters.”

There’s more at the link.

The second article describes another lawsuit against Cisco, also pending in a US court.

A human rights group suing Cisco for aiding the tracking and torture of people in China claims it has new evidence proving the tech giant tailored its technology to specifically enable these abuses.

If accepted by the court, the revelations, including that Cisco trained Chinese officials in how to surveil net users, could prove damning for the company, which has always claimed it has done no more than sell stock standard technology to the regime.

. . .

In an amended statement of claim filed in the Falun Gong case the Human Rights Law Foundation says it has found evidence further implicating Cisco.

It claims Cisco CEO John Chambers repeatedly met with Jiang Zemin – “the founder of the persecutory campaign against Falun Gong” – during the design and development of the Golden Shield.

Senior Cisco executives, including Chambers, knew of the campaign of torture and persecution of Falun Gong practitioners in China but authorised and participated in the Golden Shield project anyway, the complaint claims.

The amended claim quotes a Cisco engineer describing the all-encompassing monitoring Cisco’s technology allowed the Chinese government to conduct.

“Cisco provided a secure connection to provincial security databases allowing for thorough cross-checking and movement-tracing … [such that] policemen could remotely access the suspect’s work unit, access reports on the individual’s political behaviour … family history … fingerprints, photographs and other imaging information,” the engineer is quoted as saying.

“The Chinese police could even check remotely whether the suspect had built or contributed to a website in the last three months, access the suspect’s surfing history and read his email.”

The Golden Shield Project – which makes up part of what is known as the Great Firewall of China – is used by the Chinese government to eliminate references to politically sensitive topics such as Tiananmen Square, 2010 Nobel Peace Prize Winner Liu Xiaobo (jailed for 11 years for his political writings) and the Jasmine Revolution sweeping through the Middle East.

Sites such as Facebook and Twitter are also blocked.

The complaint claims that Cisco with its agents developed “antivirus software” that was used by Chinese officials to identify, block and track Falun Gong users and their internet activities.

It claims Cisco created new “first-of-their-kind features that Cisco suggested Chinese security officers use to facilitate the detection, apprehension and interrogation of Falun Gong, knowing that the interrogation of Falun Gong practitioners included and resulted in their torture and further persecution.”

Cisco allegedly marketed its security software as the only product capable of recognising “over 90 per cent of Falun Gong pictorial information”. It was able to do this by identifying and analysing internet activity that is unique to Falun Gong practitioners and then use these “digital signatures” to track them.

The company “specifically designed and customised the Golden Shield apparatus (including hardware and software) with the scale, complexity and capacity required to enable [Chinese officials] to monitor the Chinese population and identify, track, apprehend, interrogate, detain and torture Falun Gong practitioners”.

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)”.

The system was so far-reaching it enabled authorities to coordinate large-scale investigations to locate, track, apprehend and persecute Falun Gong members from anywhere in China without having to search homes, ransack their offices and homes for evidence or detain and interrogate them for more information, the suit claims.

Cisco has always claimed that it simply provided the equipment to China and denied taking part in training or customising its products in a way that would facilitate censorship or repression. It would not comment on the new claims filed this week other than to say it was assessing the material.

Daniel Ward, of US law firm Ward & Ward, who is running the other case on behalf of the Chinese political prisoners, said the new evidence was “huge”.

He said it “lays bare” Cisco’s story that the leaked internal PowerPoint presentation used in Ward’s case was an outlier to be ignored. Ward said he would be using the new evidence as part of his case.

Again, more at the link.

If these allegations against Cisco are proved, I can only hope that its Western customers will punish it by withdrawing their business from it . . . but I’m afraid that’s likely to be a pipe-dream. More and more, companies will do anything to make money, irrespective of any moral or ethical considerations. Cisco is merely the latest to be exposed. There are plenty of others.

I’m afraid I’m out of step with the modern world on these issues. If I’m satisfied that a company has breached my personal standards of morals and ethics, I won’t do business with them any longer – ever. I won’t buy new General Motors or Chrysler vehicles because of the flagrantly illegal and immoral bailouts that saved them from bankruptcy, at the expense of defrauding preferred creditors and denying pension rights and benefits to non-union staff. I won’t buy Bridgestone or Firestone tires because of that company’s attitude and conduct during the Ford Explorer controversy some years ago. If – if – it’s found guilty of the moral and ethical lapses of which it’s accused, I can’t boycott Cisco, as the company doesn’t market its products to people like myself. However, I can (and will) hope, and argue, that companies – and governments – which profess a more ethically and morally upright position should do so.



  1. I dunno.

    There are a lot of (currently) Cisco shops in the .edu space, and .edu buyers are more likely than your average megacorp to care about this sort of "corporate behaviour" from vendors.

    Of course, there are also so many bloody stupid leftists in the .edu space that they might see helping their revolutionary brothers in China as a good thing. 🙁

  2. More likely western governments will go to Cisco and ask for the same product to be tailored to that government's needs/uses.
    (If they haven't already.)

  3. Peter,

    As far as a boycott goes… Perhaps you've heard of home networking equipment from "Linksys?" Linksys is the consumer directed equipment from Cisco Systems. In fact http://www.linksys.com now re-directs to the Cisco Home networking site. Seems like a pretty easy consumer boycott target.


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