Suit says Cisco is helping China commit crimes

A sign is posted in front of the Cisco Systems headquarters on August 10, 2011 in San Jose, Calif.

The suit was filed by Daniel S. Ward, a partner at the Washington, D.C., firm Ward & Ward PLLC on behalf of his client, a Chinese dissident named Du Daobin. The suit claims that by providing networking equipment for use on China's systems, Cisco is complicity in torture and other abuses carried out by the Chinese government.

Ward says Cisco helped create the Golden Shield -- that's the name given to the Internet surveillance system used by the government in China. "The Golden Shield of today is probably the most sophisticated domestic surveillance of its type in the world," he says. "So when a political dissident or someone curious about a different way of life makes a search on a public computer or on their private computer, then the Internet police -- which is by some accounts about 30,000 strong -- will track that that search has been made and intercept it, prevent it from being executed and will then get information from Internet police to a beat cop blocks away. And you get tap on the shoulder."

Cisco denies that it's done anything wrong. Mark Chandler, general counsel for the company, says that Cisco has complied with all regulations regarding the sale of its equipment. He says, "Our products aren't used to commit human rights violations. We don't customize our equipment in any way that could facilitate repression and censorship and our equipment didn't cause or contribute to the harms described in the lawsuit."

Chandler says Cisco supports an open Internet and open communication. But if Cisco gear is being used on a computer network that is committing these violations, is Cisco committing a crime?

John Palfrey is faculty co-director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard and a professor at Harvard Law School. He says there are two main questions to consider: "One is when you are thinking in terms of dual use technologies -- things that could be used for good or negative purposes in any context -- is it unlawful to provide that kind of technology if someone uses for something you didn't intend? That's the core initial question. The second question is to say, 'Is there a circumstance in which someone ought to have known or did know that it would be used for unlawful purpose? And if so, does a company like Cisco have lawful responsibility?' I think so far no company has been held to that standard, but that's plainly what's at issue here."

Also in this program, the hottest app on Facebook now is The Sims. It's a Facebookified version of the classic video game where you must guide a virtual person through what will hopefully be a happy and worthwhile life. The Facebook version lets you play along with your Facebook friends. But let's get real here, folks: you're playing with dolls.

About the author

John Moe is the host of Marketplace Tech Report, where he provides an insightful overview of the latest tech news.

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