Recently, Mark Chandler, Cisco Systems Inc.’s general counsel, posted a blog entry titled, “Cisco Supports Freedom of Expression, an Open Internet and Human Rights”. In that post, Mr. Chandler weaves a narrative of Cisco’s commitment to a “free” Internet and human rights. That narrative, while persuasive, is irreconcilable with Cisco’s history of aiding, abetting, and furnishing the tools of repression to the Chinese Communist Party. Like Cisco’s sponsorship of the Nobel Peace Prize and its oft repeated mantra of human rights support, this is yet another a masquerade concealing a far more disturbing reality.
While Cisco claims to support “free expression and open communication”, this commitment apparently extends only to the point that it does not interfere with Cisco’s profits. When there were billions of dollars to be made by streamlining and maximizing China’s effort to identify, persecute, imprison and torture political or religious minorities, Cisco jumped at the opportunity, aggressively marketing their products to the Chinese Communist Party.
In his blog post, Chandler states, “Cisco does not supply equipment to China that is customized in any way to facilitate blocking of access or surveillance of users.” Despite their posturing, internal Cisco documents have been released detailing the unique “Golden Shield” system that Cisco helped develop and implement for the Chinese Communist Party. This “Golden Shield”, brought to you in no small part by Cisco, enables not only the blocking of access to certain content, but provides the Chinese Communist Party the means to identify and locate internet users instantaneously. Furthermore, there is evidence that Cisco created an “Advanced Service Team” that was dedicated to training officials of the Chinese Communist Party to use Cisco products to these ends. This covert program by Cisco was outlined in their internal report titled, “The Golden Shield Project: Public Network Information Security Monitor System”, and detailed how Cisco could create a network that would aid the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to “combat Falun Gong, evil religion[s] and other hostiles”. Further documents from Cisco’s presentation at China’s 2002 Information Infrastructure Expo, which have been authenticated by Terry Alberstein, Cisco’s Director of Corporate Affairs for the Asia-Pacific, show the Cisco specifically marketed their products with the intent and knowledge they would be used to persecute free-thinkers, political activists, and other targets of oppression across China.
Cisco representatives have feigned innocence, claiming that the documents were mistakenly repeating official goals from the Chinese Communist Party and did not represent Cisco’s agenda. Through this amoral two-step, Cisco attempts to create a meaningless and dangerous distinction between directly aiding these actions by the PRC and selling products Cisco knows are being purchased to commit these crimes against humanity. Even if Cisco’s increasingly dubious claim regarding the lack of customization is supported, Cisco implicitly acknowledges that it sold these products with the knowledge that they would be used to persecute free-thinkers, political activists, and other targets of oppression. Cisco’s knowing complicity shocks the conscience. This type of willful indifference to egregious human rights violations has produced some of the most appalling humanitarian atrocities of our day. Just as with IBM’s collusion with the Nazi’s during the Holocaust, Siemens AG’s financing of the Sudanese genocide through oil revenue, and Ford Motor Companies assistance to the South African apartheid regime, Cisco’s “neutral” policy of selling products to the Chinese Communist Party unapologetically enables these crimes.
A company that publicly stands for free thought, liberty, and human rights should not be selling the shackles of oppression on the grounds that the chains might also have a less insidious use. This immoral pettifogging is unacceptable. The act of selling jumper cables and car batteries to a country that has told you it intends to electrocute political activists with them does not become less repugnant because they can also start a car.
As a result of anachronistic definitions, Cisco is able to maintain that they are in compliance with U.S. export restrictions, such as the Tiananmen Square sanctions, that prohibit the transfer crime control devices to China. We believe that the time has come for the courts, legislators and people of America to hold Cisco accountable for profiting from and enabling the mass persecution and torture of peaceful political activists by the Chinese Communist Party.