China can be a difficult place to do business and it's sometimes a question of conscience or pocketbook. It's a huge market and companies stand to make a lot of money there, but the government isn't shy about wanting data in return. Is it worth it?
To many corporations the answer seems to be yes, but for those who suffer there because of it the answer is a resounding no. Now the Electronic Frontier Foundation is pursuing Cisco in court. This isn't a particularly new accusation or case, but the organisation isn't ready to let it die.
The EFF is demanding that a Federal Appeals Court reopen a case that accuses Cisco of wrongdoing by aiding the Chinese government in the capture and subsequent torture of members of the Falun Gong movement, a religious sect that keeps itself as secret as possible within the nation. The EFF claims that Cisco knowingly built a system for the Chinese authorities to use for purposes of human rights abuses.
"In an amicus brief filed Monday with the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, EFF and the groups ARTICLE 19 and Privacy International argue that the plaintiffs sufficiently alleged that Cisco understood that the 'Golden Shield' system (also known as The Great Firewall) it custom-built for China was an essential component of the government’s program of persecution against the Falun Gong - persecution that included online spying and tracking, detention, and torture", the organisation states.
This is a follow-up to an earlier case known as Doe vs Cisco which pitted family members of the victims against the corporation.
"The facts alleged by the plaintiffs are sufficient to proceed with a lawsuit claiming Cisco knew that technologies it designed from its offices in San Jose, California, would facilitate human rights abuses, and purposefully built its products to help the Chinese government carry out its program of repressing, capturing, and abusing Falun Gong members", says EFF Staff Attorney Sophia Cope. "Company officials didn’t have to be present in China in order to assist human rights violations, and victims have a right to their day in court".
The system, known as Golden Shield, was built with a library of Falun Gong internet activity which the government was able to use to identify members, or so the suit alleges. It is also claimed that a Cisco engineer wrote about the company's commitment to China, including its practice of Douzhung, an abuse campaign against minority groups such as Falun Gong.
The EFF's Cope concludes by claiming "Cisco’s conduct is part of a growing trend of US and European technology companies helping repressive governments become highly efficient at committing human rights violations.
"We are asking the Ninth Circuit to recognise that victims of such abuses can seek to hold accomplices like Cisco accountable for their role in brutal persecutions".