June 3 (Westlaw Journals) - Cisco Systems was intimately involved in China’s efforts to censor the Internet and to spy on dissidents, such as the outlawed Falun Gong religious group, according to a complaint filed in a California federal court.
The suit accuses Cisco of designing and selling products that Chinese officials use to monitor Internet activity. The plaintiffs allege that they and others were kidnapped, detained, imprisoned, tortured and subjected to forced labor by the Chinese government as a result of the monitoring.
Ivy He, Charles Lee and Liu Guifu, along with eight anonymous plaintiffs, sued the technology company in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Cisco CEO John Chambers and two other executives are also named as defendants.
The lawsuit alleges violations of the Torture Victims Protection Act and the Alien Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1350; assault and battery; wrongful death; false imprisonment; unfair business practices under Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17200; and distribution of wiretapping equipment in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2512.
According to the complaint, the Chinese government began planning an Internet censorship project known as “Golden Shield” in the late 1990s. The plaintiffs cite alleged internal Cisco documents that refer to Golden Shield as “Policenet.”
One of the main purposes of Golden Shield was to track down Falun Gong members, a group the Chinese government outlawed around that time, the plaintiffs claim.
Cisco developed and marketed numerous products to help the Chinese with Golden Shield, the complaint says. The plaintiffs accuse the company of developing custom hardware and software for various purposes, including the tracking of Internet users’ online activities and maintenance of blacklists of unique Internet Protocol addresses.
Cisco did so to compete for Chinese government business with the full knowledge that the products would be used to violate the human rights of Falun Gong members, the plaintiffs allege.
”Cisco … knowingly, purposefully and intentionally designed, supplied, and helped to maintain a censorship and surveillance network known as the Golden Shield in collaboration with the Chinese Communist Party and Chinese Public Security officers,” the complaint says.
The plaintiffs are seeking damages, costs, injunctive relief and attorney fees.
U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel is slated to hear the case.
Doe et al. v. Cisco Systems Inc. et al., 11-CV-02449, complaint filed (N.D. Cal., San Jose Div. May 19, 2011).(Reporting by Joe Hylkema, Westlaw Software Law Bulletin)