Hot Docs: Cisco responsible for the “Great Firewall of China”

May 26, 2011

Cisco CuffsYou think Google and Apple are violating people’s privacy?

That’s nothing compared to what Cisco’s being sued for.

According to the new lawsuit filed last Thursday, Cisco designed, created, and maintained China’s “Golden Shield.”

The suit is being brought by multiple individuals, and it’s primarily centered on the claim that the Golden Shield was used to persecute practitioners of Falun Gong, a religious sect heavily disfavored by the government.

Of course, the Golden Shield is used to censor and monitor everything else in China, so the damage isn’t limited only to Falun Gong practitioners.

For those not familiar with Chinese censorship, the Golden Shield, also known as the “Great Firewall of China,” is the censorship and surveillance system that the government of China uses to block all internet content unfavorable or potentially unfavorable to the government within the country.

More significantly, it is used to track and identify individuals whom the government deems dissidents and are subject to punishment.

For example, Charles Lee – a U.S. citizen and a plaintiff in the suit – was tracked by Chinese officials while he was in the U.S.

First, he joined an email exchange for those interested in the persecution of Falun Gong in China, many of whom within the exchange were located in China.

Thus, Lee’s emails to China were tracked via the Golden Shield.

In 2003, Lee flew to China to visit with friends and family after corresponding through email with a small number of friends living in China, letting them know he was coming.

When he arrived at the airport, Public Security officials placed him under arrest, with one official telling Lee that they knew he was coming.

Lee was imprisoned for three years, during which time he was subjected to regular emotional, psychological, and physical torture.

And that’s just one case.

The complaint lists several other individuals who underwent similar experiences thanks to the Golden Shield.

Hot Doc: Doe v. Cisco Systems

Source: Westlaw News & Insight – National Litigation

The torture detailed in the complaint is fairly graphic and thoroughly disturbing, and was intentionally written that way.


Because there’s very little chance of actually recovering any damages in court, and I’d bet the plaintiffs know that.

Every single wrong that the complaint alleges Cisco helped China commit was done in ChinaBy the Chinese Government.

If by some strange chance the suit actually succeeds, it would open a floodgate of litigation against many of the other corporations violating human rights around the world.

Obviously, that’s not going to happen.

The point of the suit, then, seems to be a public image strike against Cisco.

Up until the suit was filed, no one really knew who was responsible for the Orwellian machination that is the infamous Golden Shield.

Now everyone knows it was Cisco.

And the complaint spares no detail explaining that Cisco knew exactly what the system was going to be used for, and helped tailor it to fit China’s needs.

Of course, with such a lucrative project dangling right before its eyes, Cisco didn’t really care what China did with it unless the public found out.

And that may be the point of the suit: to make Cisco feel the sting of bad P.R.

More broadly, this situation may serve as an example to other corporations about assisting undemocratic governments with their undemocratic activities.