Cisco grilled for allegedly helping Chinese censor, spy on dissidents

Internet networking giant Cisco Systems took the hot seat at a Senate Judiciary Human Rights Subcommittee hearing Tuesday for reportedly having a role in the Chinese government's construction of a system for monitoring, censoring and prosecuting online dissidents who speak in favor of democratic values.

Cisco General Counsel Mark Chandler said an internal 2002 company document provided to the subcommittee, which gave an overview of China's law enforcement objectives like combating the spiritual movement Falun Gong, "were not Cisco's views then and are not Cisco's views now."

The memo "did not propose on behalf of Cisco that Cisco combat [Internet speech] in any way or adopt the government's goals," he said.

The nature of the 90-page PowerPoint presentation, written by a low-level employee who still works for the firm, has not been accurately described by Web watchdog Shiyu Zhou, Chandler told Human Rights Subcommittee Chairman Richard Durbin, D-Ill., and ranking member Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who grilled him on the issue.

Zhou, who runs a global consortium of anti-censorship providers, testified. Before the hearing, Zhou submitted a second memo from the same Cisco employee -- written in Chinese -- that he said further incriminates the Silicon Valley superpower.

He said the paper is a sales pitch to China's police force explaining how to use Cisco equipment to impinge on citizens' Web use. Chandler downplayed the allegations, saying the only equipment Cisco has sold to China's public security bureau were routing and switching products, which come with basic training and technical support.

Coburn pointed out that of the nearly 1.5 billion global Internet users, 220 million reside in China, double the number reported in 2006 when the House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing on this topic. "Information is power and that information can become freedom," he said. "It is crucial that [U.S.] companies operate on the side of those seeking freedom rather than oppression."

Durbin also pressed Google and Yahoo executives, who are working on industry standards to uniformly handle requirements to alter their products by foreign governments in which they do business, to act soon. He asked them why the 18-month-old collaboration with other tech firms, human rights groups and academics has not resulted in a finished product.

"I hope within the next 48 hours, we'll have an announcement," he said. Durbin said after the hearing that self-imposed industry guidelines would be a good starting point as he, Coburn, and Judiciary Committee colleagues begin to craft legislation aimed at protecting free speech on the Internet.

"We're not coming down with the heavy hand of Washington. We're asking them to do their part," he said.

A bill introduced earlier this year by Rep. Christopher Smith, R-N.J., that would ban U.S. technology firms from cooperating with Internet restrictive countries is laudable, Durbin said, "but we have some of our own ideas."

He declined to provide details on a Senate companion bill that is in its "most formative stages." But Durbin did say he wants to "move quickly" on such a measure. Smith has been urging House leaders to bring his bill to the floor before the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.