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Friday, September 09, 2011

Group says it has new evidence of Cisco participation in Chinese Falun Gong repression

A human rights advocacy group says it has new evidence that Cisco Systems specifically aided the Chinese government in identifying and tracking Falun Gong practitioners through a contract to build an Internet firewall known as the "Golden Shield."

The group, Washington, D.C.-based Human Rights Law Foundation, filed an amended complaint (.pdf) Sept. 2 to a May 19 lawsuit seeking class action status filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California against Cisco.

Among the allegations in the amended complaint is that Cisco marketed to Chinese public security officials software with the claim that it was the "'only product capable of recognizing over 90 percent of Falun Gong pictorial information.'"

"To achieve such a high success rate, Defendants identified and analyzed Internet activity that is unique to Falun Gong practitioners and used this activity to create unique digital Falun Gong 'signatures,'" the suit alleges.

The Falun Gong religion developed in China in 1992; it has been illegal there since 1999 and its followers have since been subject to imprisonment and torture. The suit seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages for Falun Gong followers, as well as an injunction enjoining Cisco against "future unlawful activity."

Many of the features supplied by Cisco as part of the Golden Shield--also known as the Great Firewall of China--were first-of-their-kind, the suit states, adding that Cisco customized routers with blocking and surveillance features and created technology "to address the use of non-standard, 'dynamic' IP addresses by Falun Gong practitioners."

Cisco, in an Aug. 4 motion to dismiss (.pdf) says it did not engage in customization. "The products Cisco has sold in China have been the same products that are in Cisco's standard product catalogue and that Cisco sells in the United States and elsewhere," the company says, also stating that sales to China were made in compliance with U.S. export laws.

In an statement emailed Sept. 9 by a Cisco spokeswoman, Cisco said it is reviewing the amended complaint, adding that "Cisco does not operate networks in China or elsewhere, nor does Cisco customize our products in any way that would facilitate censorship or repression."

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