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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Rights Group Says Cisco Helps China Repression

Newsfactor: By Richard Koman
May 21, 2008 1:41PM

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The Global Internet Freedom Consortium showed a Senate subcommittee a PowerPoint presentation of Cisco working with China to control Internet information. Shiyu Zhou of the consortium said Cisco helps run China's Golden Shield Project, or Great Firewall. Chairman Dick Durbin said the industry is "intolerably slow" on self-regulation.

The last time Congress put a spotlight on an Internet company collaborating with China's policies of censorship and repression, it was on Yahoo and CEO Jerry Yang. Tuesday, it was Cisco's turn.

At a hearing before a Senate subcommittee that focuses on human rights and the Internet, Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) focused on a PowerPoint presentation that discussed China's "combat" of "evil religious groups," such as Falun Gong, which the Chinese government has banned since 1999.

Shiyu Zhou, deputy director of the Global Internet Freedom Consortium, testified that it had obtained the presentation titled Cisco Opportunities [in the Golden Shield Project], which showed Cisco working closely with the government on an elaborate scheme to control what information is available on the Internet in China.

Smoking PowerPoint

"Cisco offers much more than just routers; it offers planning, construction, technical training, and operations maintenance for the Golden Shield," Zhou said. "Our research shows that the infrastructure Relevant Products/Services of China's Great Firewall coincides with the layouts in Cisco (China)'s PowerPoint document."

Zhou charged that "Cisco can no longer assure Congress that Cisco (China) has not been and is not now an accomplice and partner in China's Internet repression and, whether directly or indirectly, in its persecution of Falun Gong practitioners and other peaceful citizens in China."

Cisco general counsel Mark Chandler said he was "appalled" to see the reference to Falun Gong in the slide presentation and asserted that Cisco merely sells generic network equipment Relevant Products/Services to China without customizing it to work with the Golden Shield.

Voluntary Agreement 'Intolerably Slow'

"We disavow the implication that this (presentation) in any way reflects Cisco's views," Chandler said. He added that "employees who would customize our products in such a way as to undermine human rights" would violate the company's "extensive code of conduct."

The industry has been working for two years on a voluntary code of conduct for doing business in China, and Durbin signaled that congressional patience is wearing thin. Industry negotiations are "intolerably slow," he said.

As in previous hearings, the industry argued that for all the constraints of operating in China, Internet giants do more good by "being there than by staying out," in the words of Google deputy general counsel Nicole Wong. "It isn't perfect, as we know, but we do think that something about being there is right," Wong said.

Echoes of South Africa

Something about that argument is starting to ring hollow, Durbin said. "I heard that argument when companies were doing business in South Africa during apartheid," the chairman said.

The House is moving forward a proposal by the late Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) to regulate industry operation in China, requiring companies to log government requests to censor information, among other proposals. Durbin said he would work with Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) to write companion legislation on the Senae side.

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