Falun Gong sues Cisco over complicity in China's "Golden Shield" - allege torture, murder

Members of Falun Gong have sued Cisco for its role in building China's "Golden Shield" (called "PoliceNet" in Cisco marketing literature). Falun Gong members claim that Golden Shield was used to identify members to China's police, who arrested, detained, and tortured and executed them.

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's a old post on Policenet and China from Rebecca McKinnon, the best authority on technology and censorship in China.

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.

Lawsuit accuses Cisco of aiding Chinese repression

(Image: Rebecca McKinnon)


  1. So its kind of like the equivalent of a guy walking into a gun store and saying “I’m gonna kill people give me a gun.” If the owner sells him a weapon then he’s in part responsible for the deaths of whomever the guy kills?

    With out documented evidence it seems like this would be hard to prove.

    1. Actually if there were witnesses to this exchange then yes, he would be responsible. Just like a bartender is held responsible for serving an obviously intoxicated person who they know is going to drive home and they cause an accident. Even if it isn’t a criminal matter the gun shop owner could be sued. You are knowingly enabling a crime to be committed.

    2. There’s what Cisco provably knew and what, as Cory puts it, they should have known.

      To extend your metaphor, if a guy with a pretty serious and well documented history of shooting people buys a gun, then the gun store owner might have trouble saying, well, how did I know he was going to shoot someone with the gun I sold him?

  2. I call for the arrest of John Chambers, CEO of Cisco, along with his entire board of directors, as well as all lower ranking Cisco executives and especially the Cisco engineers and scientists who had anything to knowingly do with the design and creation of this system. If any of them,all the way down to the lowest ranking coder knew or should have known this tool would be used to commit torture and murder by the criminal mafia regime temporarily ruling China then they are as guilty as the Chinese fascist killers themselves.

    The lot of them should be charged with crimes against humanity, extradited to the Hague, and tried for these crimes in the International Criminal Court.

    The “I was just following orders” excuse did not work at Nuremberg and it is high time that it no longer work anymore for engineers and scientists who, for money, willingly and with full knowledge design these Internet and cell phone spy and tracking mechanisms for these evil dictatorships like china and Iran, making them nothing less than accessories before the fact in commitment of crimes against humanity.

    1. The “I was just following orders” excuse did work at Nuremberg. I don’t understand why this misconception is still so widely believed. Look at who was convicted at Nuremberg and who was acquitted: architects and masterminds of Nazi war crimes were convicted, people serving underneath them were not. It’s still in force today too, here’s the relevant passage from the Rome Statute of the ICC:

      1. The fact that a crime within the jurisdiction of the Court has been committed by a person pursuant to an order of a Government or of a superior, whether military or civilian, shall not relieve that person of criminal responsibility unless:
      (a) The person was under a legal obligation to obey orders of the Government or the superior in question;
      (b) The person did not know that the order was unlawful; and
      (c) The order was not manifestly unlawful.

      (a) applies to all soliders, in every country, everywhere, all the time, and (c) applies to Cisco in this instance, since the workers in question were operating in China under Chinese law. Making this statute basically an admission that the Nuremberg Defense is in fact valid.

      Obviously this isn’t the way it should be, but please don’t try to claim legal responsibility when none exists. That doesn’t help.

  3. Cisco didn’t become the dominant behemoth by worrying about whose human rights it steps on. To further the insult, I’m sure the Fed wasn’t completely oblivious to Cisco securing an infrastructure project inside the network of another superpower.

  4. Cisco and subsidiaries are on my boycott list.

    I do not see where they can be sued for doing biz with Chinese government. Will Boeing be sued for making aircraft used in…

  5. It is not a question of violations of US law. The mass murder and torture of innocent non-violent people guilty only of following the wrong religion, yes even if it is a kooky cult, this is a violation of universal international human rights law. Every human on earth, in any country (including China) is born with the inalienable irrevocable right not to be imprisoned, sadistically brutalized and finally killed without justification.

    The whole concept of “law” is laughable when talking about the mafia gangster regime ruling China. Sure, these assassins can hold so-called “trials” in their kangaroo courts and pass so called “laws” till they come out their noses, but any law that permits murder and torture of innocents is automatically null and void and illegal. These Chinese so called “laws” violate the basic core universal human rights all people on earth retain from the day they are born till the day they die. This is something no ruler or dictator can ever take away.

    Cisco is complicit under international law in mass murder and torture and cannot use as its defense its supposed compliance with the illegal laws of the illegal outlaw criminal Chinese dictatorship.

    1. Anon #9, a little you’re way off base. There’s a concept of sovereignty of nations. You might want to look it up. Basically, a nation may do anything it wants within its borders. That’s it, no “if’s”, “and’s”, or “but’s”.

  6. I used to work for a now-defunct, former competitor of Cisco that made the same sort of telecom/internet equipment that Cisco makes.

    We were making a technician training document and one day got word to delete a chapter. Why? That feature, that allows a knowledgeable someone to listen to/track any call in progress, is illegal in the US.

    These things are full of surveillance powers. Ostensibly created for the business environment where employers have quite a bit of authority to monitor employee communications but the features aren’t taken out just because the switch has been sold for use in a city rather than a company.

    Our company was eagerly chasing Chinese business and I’m sure the Chinese had a long list of things the box would need to do for them before they’d buy it,

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