Lawsuit Claims Cisco Helped Chinese Government Repress Falun Gong

Falun Gong is a spiritual group founded in China with millions of followers that was banned in China in 1999 for being a “heretical organization” and, indeed, a political threat. Human rights advocates have regularly reported that Falun Gong practitioners in China have been subjected to numerous human rights abuses. In a lawsuit filed last Thursday in Federal District Court for the Northern District of California in San Jose, Falun Gong alleges that networking giant Cisco Systems “supplied and helped maintain a surveillance system” known as the “Golden Shield” which “allowed the Chinese government to track and censor the group’s Internet activities,” says CNET.

Indeed, the “Golden Shield” system was, the suit contends, designed to censor Internet traffic flowing into China and to identify opponents of the Chinese government and keep them under surveillance. Cisco is being accused of assisting China in repressing dissidents and even aiding and abetting in abuse, torture and execution.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Falun Gong by the Washington, D.C.-based Human Rights Law Foundation. Cisco’s CEO John Chambers and two other executives are named as defendants in the 52-page lawsuit, which seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages from Cisco and enjoins the company not to conduct “further unlawful activity”:

The lawsuit, which seeks class-action status, alleges that Golden Shield — described in Cisco marketing materials as Policenet — resulted in the arrest of as many as 5,000 Falun Gong members. Cisco “competed aggressively” for the contracts to design the Golden Shield system “with full knowledge that it was to be used for the suppression of the Falun Gong religion,” according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit was brought on behalf of 11 plaintiffs who are described as suffering torture and sometimes death at the hands of the Chinese government. The lawsuit listed eight of the plaintiffs anonymously to avoid “retaliation and further human rights abuses.” Three plaintiffs are identified by name: Ivy He, of Canada; Liu Guifu, of New York state; and Charles Lee, an American citizen who traveled to China in 2003 and was detained at the airport and tortured until his 2006 release.

Cisco’s activity in China only became public in 2008 through a leaked PowerPoint presentation. When this was revealed, Cisco “disassociated itself from the marketing materials, stating that they were the work of a low-level employee,” says the New York Times. But Falun Gong’s suit claims otherwise:

The suit claims that additional Cisco marketing presentations prove that it promoted its technology as being capable of taking aim at dissident groups. In one marketing slide, the goals of the Golden Shield are described as to “douzheng evil Falun Gong cult and other hostile elements.” Douzheng is a Chinese term used to describe the persecution of undesirable groups. It was widely used by the Communist Party in the Cultural Revolution.

In a post on BoingBoing about the lawsuit, Cory Doctorow raises a key point:

For me, the case hinges on the extent to which Cisco knew — or should have known — how its products were used. China’s record with respect to Falun Gong and other dissident groups is well-known. Cisco’s vigorous denial of any knowledge of the oppressive use of its technology just don’t pass the giggle test. It will be interesting to see what the court case reveals about the ongoing relationship between Cisco and the Chinese security apparat — if Cisco had on-site techs helping to create and maintain Golden Shield, it will be hard for them to argue that they didn’t know what was going on.

Here is Cisco’s response to the lawsuit:

“Cisco does not operate networks in China or elsewhere, nor does Cisco customize our products in any way that would facilitate censorship or repression,” the representative said in a statement, adding that the company sells the same equipment in China that it sells in other nations in compliance with U.S. government regulations.

The Falun Gong suit further points to the legal headaches — and serious ethical and human rights violations — technology companies can step into as they seek to expand the global reach of their business. How much did Cisco know — or rather, how much will it claim that it knew?


Photo by infomatique.


john byrne
john byrne5 years ago

The crime that the Falun Gong are charged with amounts to freedom of expression, Iv seen the people getting arrested while the are in the process of what is a basic workout meditation the police in China are very aware when tourists are watching as they try to hide their heavy handed attack on its citizens as they are beaten on the moment of contact, its vital for China to control the masses as you cant have that many citizens all having free thoughts @ speech the regime just could not handle that much freedom of rights.Can Cisco be held responsible before the fact? however now that they have been made aware they certainly can be held to count in that they are aiding @ abetting crimes against humanity.Governments must be held responsible for their actions in dealing with China, as long as any Government will steel its face to slavery none of us can be truly safe this is why corporations feel free to flourish as they are following in the footsteps of its political leaders who much of the time are bought @ paid for by vested intrests.

Jordan W.
Jordan W.5 years ago

The execs involved at Cisco need to go to prison for this, preferably the labor camp in China.

Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W5 years ago

Money unites them...

Heidi Aubrey
Heidi Aubrey5 years ago

Unfortunately, they can use the same argument that assault rifle manufacturers use. There is absolute no other reason for the use of this weapon other than to kill people-not animals-birds,etc-but people exclusively. Yet they are able to claim it is the fault of owner, not the manufacturer.

Elizabeth Brawn
Elizabeth Brawn5 years ago

i hope the falun gong members win this courtcase and get alot of compensation especially since other sufferers may never have the freedom or the money for a lawsuit

Danny W.
Danny Wilson6 years ago

practice, practice, practice?

K s Goh
KS Goh6 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Terry Mckinney
Terry Mckinney6 years ago

Disgusting,but they do it here as well so what's the surprise?The US government should face a class action suit by every internet user in the country.Where's wikileaks when you need them?

Rosie Lopez
Rosie Lopez6 years ago

thanks for the article

Linda T.
Linda T6 years ago

I hope that if Cisco did help the Chinese government that there is a price for Cisco to be paid here.