Much is made of the repressive “Great Firewall of China” that blocks any online information the Chinese government does not want made known to its population. As much is made of China’s economy and how it represents massive business opportunities for Western companies. What has been given less attention, however, is what happens when these two interests intersect.
What has recently emerged are disquieting claims that Cisco Systems, the American-based technology multinational, is helping the Chinese government with its repressive internet techniques.
The last high-profile case involving a tech company and China was that of Google earlier this year. After Google announced it and a number of other Western companies had been on the receiving end of cyber-attacks from the Chinese government, Google decided to stop censoring its searches as per the Chinese government’s wishes.
Now members of Falungong — the banned in China spiritual movement — are suing Cisco on the grounds that it built “Golden Shield”, which they contend is used to track down members of the movement through their online activities.
The lawsuit — filed in federal court in San Jose California — asks for damages from Cisco, and seeks to end to the company’s alleged work with China.
Documents filed state that Cisco “designed, supplied and helped maintain a censorship and surveillance network known as Golden Shield”. Attorneys for Falungong went on to say that this technology was used to identify Falungong practioners who then were sometimes are detained, tortured – and even killed in some cases.
Also contained in the suit are claims that Cisco created a Chinese subsidiary in 1998, China Network Technology Corp, which went on to create “Golden Shield”, also referred to as “Policenet” by Chinese authorities.
In reply Cisco dismissed the suit as being without basis and promised to “vigorously defend” itself.
In a statement Cisco stated: “Cisco does not operate networks in China or elsewhere, nor does Cisco customise our products in any way that would facilitate censorship or repression.”
The company went on to say: “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.”