Lawsuit fingers Cisco for Falun Gong-tracking net

A human rights group has accused networking giant Cisco of developing the 'Golden Shield,' a monitoring system used by the Chinese government to track and suppress members of the Falun Gong movement.

The accusations, which Cisco claims have 'no basis' in reality, come from the Falun Gong organisation via the Human Rights Law Foundation, which has filed a suit in the Northern District of California against the networking giant - seeking compensation, punitive damages, and a ruling that would ban Cisco from working on similar projects in the future.

The 52-page lawsuit claims that Cisco's Policenet product forms the basis of China's 'Golden Shield' system - a contract for which the networking vendor "competed aggressively, with full knowledge that it was to be used for the suppression of the Falun Gong religion."

Since then, the suit alleges, the system has been directly responsible for the arrest of around 5,000 members of the religious group.

Cisco, for its part, denies the claims put forward in the lawsuit. "Cisco does not operate networks in China or elsewhere," the company claimed in a statement following the suit's filing. "Nor does Cisco customize our products in any way that would facilitate censorship or repression," it said.

Although the company doesn't deny selling networking equipment to the Chinese government, it has pointed out that it does so in compliance with the relevant US regulations - and that the same equipment is sold to other countries, without the same legal backlash.

The suit has been brought on behalf of 11 Falun Gong members allegedly targeted for torture as a result of information obtained by the 'Golden Shield' system, eight of whom are anonymous. The Human Rights Law Foundation has declared it intends to seek class-action status for the suit.