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.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

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

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

    Download
  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

    Download
  • Federal IT Applications: Assessing Government's Core Drivers

    In order to better understand the current state of external and internal-facing agency workplace applications, Government Business Council (GBC) and Riverbed undertook an in-depth research study of federal employees. Overall, survey findings indicate that federal IT applications still face a gamut of challenges with regard to quality, reliability, and performance management.

    Download
  • PIV- I And Multifactor Authentication: The Best Defense for Federal Government Contractors

    This white paper explores NIST SP 800-171 and why compliance is critical to federal government contractors, especially those that work with the Department of Defense, as well as how leveraging PIV-I credentialing with multifactor authentication can be used as a defense against cyberattacks

    Download
  • Toward A More Innovative Government

    This research study aims to understand how state and local leaders regard their agency’s innovation efforts and what they are doing to overcome the challenges they face in successfully implementing these efforts.

    Download
  • From Volume to Value: UK’s NHS Digital Provides U.S. Healthcare Agencies A Roadmap For Value-Based Payment Models

    The U.S. healthcare industry is rapidly moving away from traditional fee-for-service models and towards value-based purchasing that reimburses physicians for quality of care in place of frequency of care.

    Download
  • GBC Flash Poll: Is Your Agency Safe?

    Federal leaders weigh in on the state of information security

    Download

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