Microsoft, Sun ‘contribute to Chinese human-rights abuses’

February 2, 2004

By Andy McCue/ZiffDavis

Microsoft, Sun Microsystems and Cisco are among major IT vendors slammed by Amnesty International for contributing to human-rights abuses by selling technology to the Chinese government that is used to censor the internet.

Amnesty International claims that by January this year, there were 54 recorded cases of people detained or imprisoned in China for disseminating their beliefs or information through the internet – a 60 per cent increase on the previous year.

All internet communications in China pass through government-controlled routers and the authorities are able to block access to sites, filter content and delete web pages considered “dangerous” or “subversive”. In a new report, Amnesty heavily criticises Microsoft, Sun, Cisco, Nortel and Websense for selling the Chinese government technology that can be used to control and censor the web.

Amnesty cites the United Nations ‘human rights norms for business’ guidance adopted last year that says companies should “seek to ensure that the goods and services they provide will not be used to abuse human rights”.

The report cites cases of students, political dissidents, Falun Gong followers, writers, lawyers and teachers who have been jailed or tortured after being accused of offences ranging from signing online petitions to publishing ‘rumours’ about the SARS virus.

Kate Allen, Amnesty International UK director, said in a statement: “We urge all companies which have provided technology that might support this kind of surveillance and harassment to use their influence with the Chinese authorities.”

A Microsoft spokeswoman said the company cannot be held accountable for how customers use its products. “How that technology is used is with the individual and ultimately not in the company’s control,” she said.

Responses from other vendors cited in the report were equally bullish. A Sun spokeswoman said the company is “socially responsible” and is committed to compliance with all applicable local and international laws and regulations. “It is ultimately the end-user who is responsible for the proper use and development of technology,” she said.

A Nortel spokesman said: “Nortel Networks categorically rejects in the strongest possible terms that we are collaborating with any government to repress the human rights or democratic rights of its citizens. Nortel Networks supplies the same product solutions to China that it provides to many other customers around the world.”

Cisco and Websense were contacted but were not immediately available for comment.

ZDNet UK’s Andrew Donoghue contributed to this report