By Steve Straehley, September 21, 2014
Cisco Systems, which designed a computer program enabling the Chinese government to inflict human rights abuses on members of the Falun Gong religious sect, apparently won’t be held liable for those abuses because China didn’t bring its victims to the United States to be tortured.
U.S. District Court Judge Edward J. Davila dismissed a lawsuit brought on behalf of Falun Gong members.
Cisco sold a system called “Golden Shield” to the Chinese government, touting its ability to uniquely identify members of Falun Gong and as “the only product capable of recognizing over 90% of Falun Gong pictorial information,” according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). Cisco’s presentation also included offering features to persecute “Falun Gong evil religion,” which should have been a tip-off that human rights violations were at issue.
Chinese citizens who endured torture enabled by the software, much of which was written in San Jose, California, filed suit there against Cisco under the Alien Tort Statute. The Alien Tort Statute reads: “The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.” Foreign plaintiffs began using the law in 1980 to fight human-rights abuses.
The EFF attempted to file an amicus brief in the case, but the brief was not accepted by the court. “The Golden Shield in China has been a tool for social repression, censorship, surveillance like no other on earth, and China relied on it to hunt down, detain, imprison and ‘disappear’ untold numbers of people,” according to the EFF.
Cisco’s customization would seem to belie the company’s claim that it sold the Chinese only technology that was widely available elsewhere. Nevertheless, the case was dismissed. “The District Court here apparently decided that since the actual human rights violations—the torture, forced conversions and arbitrary arrest—occurred in China, there wasn’t a sufficient nexus even though there were strong allegations that the specific technologies developed to target the Falun Gong for those abuses was intentionally and knowingly developed here,” the EFF’s Cindy Cohn and Rainey Reitman wrote.
Cisco’s victory follows another one earlier this year on a case filed in Maryland. In that case, Judge Peter Messitte wrote that “from all that appears, Cisco technology remains a neutral product that can be used in innumerable non-controversial ways” and that the Chinese plaintiffs “failed to indicate with any logic what it means to customize technology that would permit the sort of human rights violations alleged here, such as torture.”
To Learn More:
Court Lets Cisco Systems Off the Hook for Helping China Detain, Torture Religious Minorities (Cindy Cohn and Rainey Reitman, Electronic Frontier Foundation)
Federal Court Clears Cisco for Helping China’s Surveillance and Internet Censorship (by Steve Straehley, AllGov)