The Electronic Frontier Foundation has filed an amicus brief in a lawsuit against Cisco, which seeks to call the company to account for actively participating in human rights abuses in China through its participation in China's network surveillance. In 2008, a leaked PowerPoint presentation showed that Cisco was participating in initiatives like "Combat Falun Gong Evil Religion and Other Hostilities." The case's plaintiff has been detained and harassed in China since filing his suit. EFF's amicus brief carefully lays out the case against Cisco and explains how they actively collaborated in programs of surveillance and repression.
Cisco is seeking to have the case dismissed at the outset. EFF’s brief, written with the assistance of our crack legal intern Colin Farlow, argues that, based upon the troubling facts asserted in the Complaint, the case should survive to discovery. First, EFF notes that the Complaint asserts sufficient activity by the American company, Cisco to survive as a case in the U.S. courts. Second, EFF points out that four key facts taken together would support a finding that Cisco aided and abetted or engaged in a conspiracy to violate international law. Specifically:
1) Marketing: The Complaint offers detailed allegations regarding the marketing, sale and support of the product for the facilitation of human rights violations by China against political dissidents. Most dramatically is the marketing presentation that asserts that the Golden Shield technology can help the Chinese government to “combat ‘Falun Gong’ evil religion and other hostilities.”
2) Customization: The Complaint alleges that Cisco customized its technologies for the purpose of facilitating human rights violations by China against dissidents,
3) Specific Knowledge: The Complaint highlights China’s well-documented practice of engaging in gross human rights violations against democracy activists, including Plaintiffs, and Cisco’s specific knowledge of China’s use of the technologies for those purposes,.
4) Ongoing Support: The Complaint offers detailed factual allegations confirming Defendants’ ongoing relationship with the Chinese government and ongoing support of the customized products.
The brief carefully notes that EFF does not believe that international human rights liability should attach simply for a company making a general purpose or dual purpose technology available to the public. What Cisco allegedly did here much more. Additionally, the brief notes that international human rights law is also limited in ways that will generally prevent growth of liability beyond sales to governmental entities and involvement with gross human rights violations.