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Site last updated Wed 16 Apr 2014

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Main Content: Cisco Systems lawsuits (re China)

Case profile: Cisco Systems lawsuits (re China)

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In mid-2011 two separate lawsuits were filed in US federal court against Cisco Systems and its top executives regarding the company’s activities in China.  Human Rights Foundation filed a lawsuit on 19 May 2011 in California on behalf of 11 members of the Chinese Falun Gong movement against Cisco and certain of its executives, including CEO John Chambers.  The second lawsuit was filed on 6 June 2011 in Maryland on behalf of three jailed Chinese writers.  Both sets of plaintiffs allege that Cisco helped the Chinese Government build computer systems used to track and prosecute dissidents. 

The lawsuits allege Cisco designed and maintains a censorship network known as the Golden Shield Project, with the understanding that Golden Shield would be used by the Chinese authorities to monitor and access private internet communications, identify anonymous blog authors and to block online publications critical of the Chinese Communist Party.  The Falun Gong plaintiffs allege that, by using Cisco's network, the Chinese authorities tracked the online activities of the Falun Gong movement.  They allege that some of the Falun Gong members were arrested, arbitrarily detained, tortured and killed, while others disappeared.

The second lawsuit alleges that the defendants’ role in creating the Golden Shield enabled the Chinese Government to identify and jail each of the plaintiffs.  The writers had each published articles on the internet supporting democracy and human rights and critical of the Chinese Communist Party.  Each writer alleges that he was subsequently detained and tortured by the Chinese authorities. They brought the lawsuit under the Alien Tort Statute.

Cisco denies all accusations, claiming it sells the same equipment in China that it sells in other countries around the world.

In February 2014, the judge in the lawsuit filed on behalf of the three jailed Chinese writers dismissed the case ruling that the court lacked jurisdiction. He also found Cisco was not at fault for abuses carried out using the censorship network.

- "Cisco Slapped With New Suit", Richard Finney, Parameswaran Ponnudurai, Radio Free Asia, 7 Jun 2011
- "Cisco rejects Falun Gong 'China online spying' lawsuit", BBC, 24 May 2011
- "Falun Gong members sue Cisco for helping China build its national firewall, called the Golden Shield", Associated Press, 23 May 2011

- [PDF] Du Daobin, Zhou Yuanzhi, Liu Xianbin, and Does 1-10 v. CISCO Systems, Inc., Thomas Lam, Owen Chan, Rick Justice, John T. Chambers - Complaint, 6 Jun 2011
- Doe et al. v. CISCO Systems, John Chambers, Thomas Lam, Owen Chan, and DOES 1-100 - Class Action Complaint, 19 May 2011

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