Cisco Systems lawsuits (re China)


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.

In September 2014, a US federal court dismissed the lawsuit against Cisco over allegations of abetting torture of Falun Gong practitioners in China ruling that the allegations did not have sufficient US ties for a US court to hear the claims under the Alien Tort Claims Act.

- "Cisco Won't Face Claim it Abetted Torture in China", Elizabeth Warmerdam, Courthouse News Service (USA), 11 Sep 2014
- "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] Doe et al. v. CISCO Systems, et al. - Order granting motion to dismiss, US District Court of Northern District of California. 5 Sep 2014
- [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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26 March 2015

Blog series on lawsuit in USA against Cisco over alleged complicity in provision of surveillance system targeting Chinese dissidents

Author: Beth Van Schaack, Stanford University, in Just Security (USA)

“China’s Golden Shield—Is Cisco Systems Complicit?” 24 Mar 2015

This is Part I of a series on a case pending in the Northern District of California against Cisco Systems involving the company’s provision of technology to help construct, operate, and maintain China’s Golden Shield, a network surveillance system that was allegedly used to target Falun Gong practitioners for persecution. Part I outlines the claims in and procedural posture of the case; Part II discusses some of the legal issues in play with reference to other cases of corporate complicity in human rights abuses under the Alien Tort Statute...[Also refers to Nestlé, Shell]

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5 December 2014

Access to justice for victims of human rights abuses needs to be strengthened

Author: Sif Thorgeirsson, Manager, Corporate Legal Accountability Project, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre

‘Closing the courtroom door: where can victims of human rights abuse by business find justice?’, 1 Dec 2014

…[M]any victims of business-related human rights abuse have no access to judicial remedy in their home country…The majority of cases of abuse we see at Business & Human Rights Resource Centre occur in weak governance zones, which often do not have an independent judiciary, and sometimes lack fully functioning courts…Of the 108 legal cases the Centre has profiled,…[54%] are related to extraterritorial claims…[but t]he effect [of Kiobel] has been a near-freeze on victims seeking justice through this…avenue. At the time of…Kiobel…, there were at least 19 corporate Alien Tort cases pending in US courts.  Since then, only one new…case has been filed…While the scope for remedy from US and English courts is narrowing…there have been three cases filed in Canadian courts addressing extraterritorial business-related human rights abuse...[and]…cases…have been filed in France, Switzerland and Germany…Concerted action is needed by governments and others to reverse the trend toward closing…avenues to justice…[Also refers to Occidental Petroleum, Cisco Systems, Drummond, Chiquita, Rio Tinto,  Daimler, ExxonMobil, Nestle, CACI, L-3 Titan, Nevsun, Hudbay Minerals and Tahoe Resources]

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25 November 2014

Standard behind US Court dismissal of Alien Tort case against Occidental & AirScan “sufficiently vague for corporations to hide behind”, says journalist

Author: Siddhartha Mahanta, Foreign Policy (USA)

"Suing companies for atrocities has never been harder. Thanks, Supreme Court!", 18 Nov 2014 [Subscription required]

On Nov. 12 [2014], the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals…ruled…in Mujica v. AirScan that the families of the victims of a…1998, cluster bomb attack on…Santo Domingo, Colombia, could not make claims against two American companies...Occidental Petroleum and AirScan...allegedly complicit in the attack...The Colombian helicopters that bombed Santo Domingo did so to protect the Caño-Limón pipeline, owned by Occidental, according to the plaintiffs. Occidental allegedly provided financial support to the Colombian military, [and gave] it office space to plan the…raid, the plaintiffs said…[I]n Kiobel vs. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co...Chief Justice John Roberts...[said]..."even where the claims touch and concern the territory of the United States...they must do so with sufficient force to displace the presumption against extraterritorial application."...Now, that "touch and concern" standard has returned...[Judge] Bybee wrote that the [Alien Tort Statute] didn't apply [in this case] because the…claims…failed to "touch and concern" the [US] with sufficient force...Relying on a standard as ill-defined as touch and concern, it seems, creates language sufficiently vague for corporations to hide behind. [Also refers to Exxon Mobil, Cisco, Shell]

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11 September 2014

Cisco Won't Face Claim it Abetted Torture in China

Author: Elizabeth Warmerdam, Courthouse News Service (USA)

A group of Chinese and U.S. citizens cannot continue with their lawsuit alleging that Cisco Systems abetted the torture of Falun Gong practitioners in China by collaborating with the government on a customized security system, a federal judge ruled…Members of the religion filed suit against Cisco, claiming that the company helped the Chinese government to develop and maintain "Golden Shield"…[a] system…allegedly used to eavesdrop and intercept the communications of Falun Gong believers…apprehend and torture members because of their religious beliefs, and ultimately suppress Falun Gong believers through human rights abuses against them…The Falun Gong followers also asserted that the U.S. District Court had federal jurisdiction…pursuant to the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) and Torture Victims Protection Act. However, U.S. District Court Judge Edward Davila found that…[a] stronger showing is needed that tortious acts were planned or executed in the United States in order to overcome the presumption against extraterritoriality…

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11 April 2014

Cisco is mute on accusations of aiding Chinese state snooping

Author: Dave Neal, Inquirer (UK)

Networking equipment vendor [Cisco Systems] has been accused of helping the Chinese authorities snoop on, discriminate against and violently suppress the religious group Falun Gong…The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)…has filed a request to submit an amicus brief in a US District Court in California…It asks the court to let the case "Doe vs Cisco Systems" go ahead...“The central claim…is that Cisco purposefully customised its general purpose router technology to allow the Chinese government to identify, track, and detain Falun Gong members."…The EFF alleges that Cisco was asked to customise its kit so that the Chinese authorities could pick up Falun Gong 'signatures' and enable the logging and monitoring of traffic patterns…[It]…alleges that Cisco knew about this customisation, knew that it would be used to repress the Falun Gong, and still marketed and supported the technologies "towards that purpose"…Cisco has declined…to comment on the views of the EFF and its lawsuit.

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1 March 2014

Cisco cleared in rights case, as tech sector watches [USA/China]

Author: AFP

A US court has cleared Cisco Systems over liability for human rights abuses in China…The Maryland judge dismissed the case, saying Cisco -- one of the biggest makers of computer networking equipment -- was not at fault for abuses carried out by Beijing using the "Golden Shield" censorship and surveillance project to find, arrest and torture political opponents…Judge Peter Messitte, in a February 24 opinion, sidestepped some of the key legal questions in ruling that the court lacked jurisdiction over the US tech giant's activities, but added that he "harbors doubt that corporations are immune" from the Alien Tort law…Activists hoping to use the US courts to hold corporations accountable for complicity in rights abuses expressed disappointment over the decision…Cisco welcomed the court decision…While the US courts have been unreceptive to lawsuits, multinational companies are facing pressure on other fronts to step up efforts on human rights…[Refers to DaimlerChrysler (now Daimler), Facebook, Google, Shell, Yahoo]

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1 October 2013

[PDF] Out of Bounds - Accountability for Corporate Human Rights Abuse After Kiobel

Author: EarthRights International

This report presents a summary of the history, jurisprudence and politics of the [Alien Tort Statute (ATS)], explaining how this obscure law became one of the most important and hotly contested tools in the area of business and human rights and the target of attack by the corporate lobby, the Bush Administration, and eventually even the Obama Administration. We track the rise of the ATS through its highs, including the Supreme Court’s 2004 decision in Sosa v. Alvarez Machain, to its recent holding in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum (Shell). We consider the future of ATS claims and other avenues for human rights litigation more broadly in light of the holding, and conclude that new tools are needed to fulfill U.S. obligations to hold corporations accountable. [Also refers to Arab Bank, CACI, Chevron, Chiquita, Cisco, ExxonMobil, Pfizer, Rio Tinto, Total, Unocal (part of Chevron).]

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27 June 2013

The Supreme Court: Corporate America's Employees of the Month

Author: Paul M. Barrett, Bloomberg Businessweek

[A]rcane rules and jurisdictional statutes often determine the course of global commerce, the terms of employment for millions of workers, and the very nature of justice for many in corporate America. The 2012-13 high court session, which concluded June 26, saw the [US Supreme Court] justices continue a multiyear pattern of interpreting regulations and statutes in a manner that insulates corporations from liability risks. In other words, the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts has narrowed the avenues available to employees and consumers seeking to take their grievances before a judge. Evident in the court’s decisions is a deep-seated hostility to ambitious lawsuits aggregating the claims of hundreds or thousands of plaintiffs. [Refers to Comcast, Wal-Mart, Travelers, American Express, Shell, ExxonMobil, Chiquita, Cisco, Rio Tinto, Amgen.]

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17 April 2013

Companies Shielded as U.S. Court Cuts Human-Rights Suits

Author: Greg Stohr, Bloomberg

The U.S. Supreme Court insulated multinational corporations from some lawsuits over atrocities abroad, scaling back a favorite legal tool of human rights activists. The justices threw out a suit accusing two foreign-based units of Royal Dutch Shell Plc of facilitating torture and execution in Nigeria. The majority said the 1789 Alien Tort Statute generally doesn’t apply to conduct beyond U.S. borders. In the Shell case, “all of the relevant conduct took place outside the United States,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the court. The justices were unanimous on the outcome in the Shell case, while dividing in their reasoning… Human-rights advocates said before the Supreme Court decision that a ruling favoring Shell would undermine the ability of atrocity victims to hold their perpetrators accountable. Alleged victims have invoked the law more than 150 times in the past 20 years. [Also refers to ExxonMobil, Cisco, Chiquita, Siemens, Daimler, Rio Tinto]

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14 June 2012

[PDF] Digital Freedoms in International Law: Practical Steps to Protect Human Rights Online

Author: Ian Brown & Douwe Korff, Global Network Initiative

While states are responsible for protecting human rights online under international law, companies responsible for Internet infrastructure, products and services can play an important supporting role. Companies also have a legal and corporate social responsibility to support legitimate law enforcement agency actions to reduce online criminal activity such as fraud child exploitation and terrorism. They sometimes face ethical and moral dilemmas when such actions may facilitate violations of human rights. In this report we suggest practical measures that governments, corporations and other stakeholders can take to protect freedom of expression, privacy, and related rights in globally networked digital technologies. [refers to Amesys (part of Bull), Blue Coat, Vodafone, Google, YouTube [part of Google], Cisco, McAfee [part of Intel], Websense, Verizon, Sandvine, Yahoo!, Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter, Nokia Siemens Networks (NSN) (joint venture Nokia and Siemens), Syrian Telecommunications Establishment, Huawei, ZTE. Concerns are raised re ZTE's provision of surveillance equipment to Iranian Govt. For ZTE's response, see]

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