A human rights group is suing Cisco for allegedly selling and maintaining network security tools that have been used by the Chinese government to spy on and track members of the dissident religious group Falun Gong.
The lawsuit, filed Thursday by the Washington, D.C.-based Human Rights Law Foundation in U.S. District Court in San Jose, Calif., where Cisco is based, contends that the tech giant has helped the Chinese government run “a censorship and surveillance network,” known as the Golden Shield Project.
The company “intentionally designed, supplied and helped to maintain” the technology knowing it would be used to find Falun Gong supporters and commit “gross human rights abuses, including arbitrary arrest and detention [and] torture” against them, according to the complaint.
The Golden Shield Project, commonly known as The Great Firewall of China, dates back to 1998 and was designed to censor websites deemed objectionable by the Communist regime.
The suit names Cisco CEO John Chambers; Owen Chan, who heads Cisco China; and Thomas Lam, president of Cisco China, as defendants. Specifically, the complaint claims Chan knew that the Cisco technology was being used to target and persecute Falun Gong movement members, and did nothing about it.
Cisco representatives disputed the claims.
“There is no basis for these allegations against Cisco, and we intend to vigorously defend against them,” the company said in a statement emailed to SCMagazineUS.com on Tuesday. “Cisco does not operate networks in China or elsewhere, nor does Cisco customize our products in any way that would facilitate censorship or repression.”
Last year, Falun Gong practitioners marched on the U.S. Capitol to protest more than a decade of persecution at the hands of the Chinese government, according to a report in the Epoch Times.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.