Cisco sued over Great Firewall of China

Falun Gong supporters and human rights lawyers have pointed the finger at Cisco, claiming that the networking company had a hand in supplying Chinese authorities with tracking technology used on citizens.

The company was named in a court filing by members of the Falun Gong . It was filed in the Federal District Court for the Northern District of California in San Jose by the Human Rights Law Foundation, on behalf of the spiritual movement which has been under the government’s watchful eye since 1999.

Way back then, the Chinese government banned Falun Gong, fearing that a very large number of followers could pose a threat to the ruling power.

On its website, the group claims that to date, the Chinese government has used any method available to terrorise and pressure people to “renounce their faith”.

Millions of Falun Dafa books and tapes are alleged to have been publicly burned and destroyed, while access to all internet websites regarding Falun Dafa have been blocked or jammed.

The Chinese government, according to initial reports in the New York Times, is still after the group.

It has been claimed that Cisco had a hand in helping the Chinese government design what is known as the “Golden Shield” firewall. This is a device allegedly used to censor the internet and track opponents of the Chinese government.

Within the 52 page suit, Cisco is claimed to have had marketing presentations that pushed its technology as being able to track dissident groups.

Fingered within the lawsuit is chairman and chief executive of Cisco, John T. Chambers, who among others, has been ordered within the lawsuit to pay damages to the group as well as retract any equipment which has been helping the Chinese government.

Cisco, which has a rumoured past of providing the country with censorship technology – documents leaked in 2008 suggested such activities – has denied the current claims, going as far as saying that it intends to “vigorously” defend itself.

It added that it did not operate networks in China or customise products that  “in any way that would facilitate censorship or repression.”

However, human rights advocates are none too impressed.

One human rights lawyer, talking under condition of anonymity, told TechEye: “There’s no proof Cisco has participated in this – only a court hearing with evidence will decide this. [But] These sort of claims haven’t been created out of thin air.

“It’s no secret China is keen on censorship and will encroach on human rights in a bid to ensure its citizens comply.

“Remember, China is also a country network providers are trying to get into, and although Cisco is already in there, there are obviously restrictions.

“Let’s not forget China favours its own manufacturers. While I’m not saying that this is the case, it would be very easy for the government to strike a deal with companies, a kind of ‘I’ll scratch your back, if you scratch mine’ and such surveillance processes could be part of that.

“Of course this is wrong, but what is more concerning is that China is, and has been allowed to get away with such censorship practices that break human rights on the internet for so long.

“Any company participating with this kind of practice should be given a maximum punishment,” he added.

Jim Killock, executive director at the Open Rights Group, tells TechEye: “A court case can only be welcomed, to throw light on the practices and co-operation between Cisco and the Chinese state.”