Cisco accused of human rights abuses

The EFF has asked a US court to allow Cisco to be sued for its role in contributing to human rights abuses against the Falun Gong religious minority in China.

For those who came in late, China has been particularly nasty to the Falun Gong religion and arrested, tortured and killed some of its followers. These human rights violations have been well-documented by the UN, the US State Department and were possible thanks to China’s use of sophisticated surveillance technologies.

An EFF spokesman said that technology is the result of some hard work on the part of Cisco which purposefully customised its general purpose router technology to allow the Chinese government to identify, track, and detain Falun Gong members.

This included the building of a library of carefully analysed patterns of Falun Gong Internet activity that enable the Chinese government to identify Falun Gong Internet users. There was also a log/alert systems that provide the Chinese government with real time monitoring and notification based on Falun Gong Internet traffic patterns and software for storing data profiles on individual Falun Gong practitioners for use during interrogation.

Cisco was involved in the creation of software for categorizing individual Falun Gong practitioners by their likely susceptibility to different methods of “forced conversion,” the EFF claims.

The EFF claims to have evidence that the highly advanced video and image analyzers that Cisco marketed as the “only product capable of recognizing over 90 per cent of Falun Gong pictorial information”.

This allowed the creation of a nationwide video surveillance system which enabled the Chinese government to identify and detain Falun Gong practitioners.

The suit also alleges that Cisco not only knew that its customizations would be used to repress the Falun Gong, but actively marketed, sold, and supported the technologies anyway.

The EFF lawyers have their work cut out. Another case, also involving Cisco from last year decided that a tech company could not be held accountable when governments misuse general use products for nefarious purposes.

However it argues that the allegations here are that Cisco has done far more than sell standard router technology and services to the Chinese authorities and that they customised the gear.