Cisco Sued For Helping China Repress Falun Gong

from the under-what-basis? dept

News.com has a report of a class action lawsuit, filed by 11 plaintiffs who claimed they were tortured by the Chinese government, against Cisco for apparently supplying the government with the tools to track and (in some cases, falsely) arrest supposed members of Falun Gong:
The lawsuit, which seeks class-action status, alleges that Golden Shield--described in Cisco marketing materials as Policenet--resulted in the arrest of as many as 5,000 Falun Gong members. Cisco "competed aggressively" for the contracts to design the Golden Shield system "with full knowledge that it was to be used for the suppression of the Falun Gong religion," according to the lawsuit.
While I find the Chinese government's actions in suppressing dissident reprehensible, I'm not at all sure how there's a legitimate case against Cisco here. It may have made a bad decision to do business with the Chinese government, but is that illegal? While News.com doesn't supply a copy of the lawsuit (and why not?), I can't see what legitimate charges there can be here. This seems like yet another case of misapplied liability. Obviously, these people feel they can't go after the Chinese government, but using Cisco as a legal proxy doesn't make much sense. I could see protesting Cisco's actions, but suing the company seems like a stretch.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

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    Hugh S. Myers (profile), May 23rd, 2011 @ 7:51pm

    Cisco lawsuit

    To the degree that this is the same as similar cases against gun manufacturers you would be correct in saying that this is a stretch. To the degree that Cisco provided after the sale help, you would be in-correct. At what point is the line drawn in the sand for culpability? I sell you a gun and walk away---no problem. I sell you a gun and teach you how to use it. Less clean, but still no problem. I hold your hand when you shoot the politician? Pretty clear that there would be a problem. I think it wishful thinking at best to believe that this is black and white. It will be interesting to see what the Falun Gong have card wise. It will need to be compelling in a country that still doesn't think Coal Mine owners and Tobacco manufacturers are not guilty of anything in particular.

     

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      PrometheeFeu (profile), May 23rd, 2011 @ 8:47pm

      Re: Cisco lawsuit

      I think the best analogy here would be if a gun salesman overheard someone say: "I want to shoot my wife" and ran over to them and said: "I sell the cheapest best guns in town! The following bullets would be most likely to kill your wife if you were so inclined. I can also sell you targets which look exactly like your wife so you can practice before shooting here if that's what you want." I'm not sure whether that's legal or not, but it sure as hell shouldn't be.

       

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        Mike D (profile), May 23rd, 2011 @ 11:55pm

        Re: Re: Cisco lawsuit

        I signed up for this but forgot to comment earlier THIS IS HILARIOUS. Also a pretty good analysis of what seems to be the situation. Though the whole "it was legal in that country" thing is still the biggest problem.. honestly though I'm not positive that it would be illegal in this country I could definitely see our country doing it to hunt down "terrorists" who may or may not actually be terrorists and I'd imagine that's exactly the mentality China has towards religion.

         

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      G Thompson (profile), May 23rd, 2011 @ 9:39pm

      Re: Cisco lawsuit

      Your analogy is correct except for last part..

      I hold your hand when you shoot the politician in a jurisdiction (sovereign country) where it is legal to actually shoot politicians? [Note: Sadly there is no such jurisdiction.. otherwise... ;)]

      The problem here is that if Cisco did anything, though morally repugnant and maybe unethical, it was legal within China at that time (and probably still is).

       

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        Anonymous Coward, May 24th, 2011 @ 9:38am

        Re: Re: Cisco lawsuit

        "[Note: Sadly there is no such jurisdiction.. otherwise... ;)]" Thank god such thing does not exist. If it did, the world would run out of bullets, thus no skeet :(

         

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      Viln (profile), May 24th, 2011 @ 12:57am

      Re: Cisco lawsuit

      The lawsuit is a win/sort-of-win scenario for Falun Gong: either Cisco is held responsible for facilitating what the international community considers immoral, or Cisco suffers a public relations backlash for getting into bed with China. The former will never happen, because as stated China considers it perfectly legal and the international community can just barely agree to condemn mass-murdering psychopaths leading rogue nations... they won't be taking China to task anytime soon except in media soundbytes. The latter is the real prize, as they'll scare other IT companies away from doing the same thing.

      15 years ago or so when I was interning at *harumphharumph* I remember working on an internationalized version of Unix that was being prepared in part as a result of contracts with the Chinese government. That was back when most people in the US thought the Dalai Lama was the kid from The Golden Child, and it still gave me a queasy feeling. Nowadays every IT company playing on the global stage should be sweating every email and phone conversation with the Chinese government... not simply because of the moral dilemma, but because any technological development you attempt to rent out will likely end up duplicated and home-grown for 1/50th the price.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, May 23rd, 2011 @ 8:19pm

    It would be fine if US companies could be held liable under US law for actions overseas that would be illegal in the US. Unfortunately, probably won't happen.

    Maybe if it's illegal to usurp the authority of the State Department?

     

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      Daniel Baker, May 23rd, 2011 @ 8:56pm

      Re:

      It's what they already do for "Sexual Tourism". The concept goes, If you go to another country to have sex with an underage girl and come back to America, they will prosecute you in America, for the illegal sex overseas if they can prove it.

      So there's already a precedent of out of jurisdiction prosecution. Might be interesting to see how this plays out.

      - Dan.

       

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        G Thompson (profile), May 23rd, 2011 @ 9:43pm

        Re: Re:

        Yes but The Sexual Tourism laws (and they are in a lot of countries not just USA) are criminal statutes.

        Civil matters are very very different.

         

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          Mike D (profile), May 23rd, 2011 @ 11:16pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          I think a more similar parallel might be that a company can fire you for failing a drug test even if you the country you were in at the time had legalized that drug

           

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            G Thompson (profile), May 24th, 2011 @ 12:05am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            If you are in the country where the drug is illegal at the time of the testing I see no problem with this analogy because you are still under the influence, and have the illicit substance in you, no matter how slight, of the drug.

            If though you were still in the country where the drug was legal, and the company was foreign though based there, it would be a matter for contract law on whether the company could terminate employment. Even then the company could run foul of unfair dismissal laws relevant to that jurisdiction.

            Welcome to the wonderful world of International Employment laws. *eeek*

             

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              G Thompson (profile), May 24th, 2011 @ 12:09am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              Oh and welcome to Techdirt..

              where the commentors are quite sane... and no one ever tells an untruth ;)

               

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              Mike D (profile), May 24th, 2011 @ 12:22am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              All true, touché sir, except for one. Hair testing your hair can test positive for as lost as the history book of your head holds on to it. Extreme example but you aren't shying away from extremes in saying that marijuana is still affecting you 7 days down the line when it shows up in your urine ;-)

               

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              Griff (profile), May 24th, 2011 @ 4:31am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              Not sure I agree.

              If I have a (legal) joint in Amsterdam then fly home to a less permissive country 5 days later then
              - I haven't possessed the drug at home
              - I haven't bought the drug at home
              - I haven't taken the drug at home
              - I have not been "intoxicated" with the drug at home

              But if a very sensitive test can show it still in some qty in my bloodstream are you saying that
              a) there is is an offence under which I could be prosecuted in any country you know of ?
              b) that you'd be OK with that morally ?

               

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    James (profile), May 23rd, 2011 @ 8:40pm

    WTF

    Well, you may as well sue Smith&Wesson for making the handcuffs, and GOD, for hating you.

     

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    DataShade (profile), May 23rd, 2011 @ 11:34pm

    I'm OK with this. Corporations are given rights of persons without any of the responsibilities. If you discard illegal actions, your actions as a private person are limited to, what? Protests and lawsuits.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 23rd, 2011 @ 11:44pm

    Misapplied Liability

    This seems like yet another case of misapplied liability.

    It's about as stupid as suing a bar that sells people alcohol knowing that they are already drunk and are going to be driving home. It's not the bar's fault, is it?

     

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      Mike D (profile), May 23rd, 2011 @ 11:51pm

      Re: Misapplied Liability

      at least in Virginia, if it can be proven the bar is most definitely legally liable.. and they should be. Profiting from what you know will be illegal behavior is definitely sketchy because it means you have something to gain from that illegal behavior. But like quite a few people have said, what we're actually talking about isn't illegal in the country it occurred in.

       

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    G Thompson (profile), May 24th, 2011 @ 1:10am

    Alien Tort Statute

    It seems that the Human Rights Law Foundation (HRLF) brought this suit on behalf of Falun Gong members, and has a history of bringing suit for this sort of thing, though I suspect this is the first time a corporation has been a respondent.

    It seems the Statute they most commonly use for jurisdiction purposes is the Alien Tort Statute 28 U.S.C. § 1350 [aka Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA)]
    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

    Seems there has been of late a fair few uses of this statute, mostly involving Falun Gong, and other victims of torture around the globe. Though only a few involving corporations with (as far as I can tell based on limited research) all of them being either dismissed for lack of jurisdiction, found not liable by a jury, or settled as in the case of Wang Xiaoning v Yahoo

    So until the actual lawsuit is made available, not sure if their is merit or not in the case, though ATCA sounds interesting.

     

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      sheenyglass (profile), May 24th, 2011 @ 11:41am

      Re: Alien Tort Statute

      Here is a copy of the complaint (found through googling, but it looks genuince).

      http://www.scribd.com/doc/55996428/Doe-v-Cisco-Complaint-5-11

      FYI - Not sure if you are American, but court docs are generally public information. Most federal paper is submitted electronically, so you can usually get it online with a little wheedling.

      Only skimmed it, but it seems like the causes of action are for assisting China in a course of action that included, among other violations of international law, torture and extrajudicial killing. So it seems pretty squarely in what the ATCA is for. (though I am no expert, just a general practitioner, so grain of salt etc.).

       

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    Jesse (profile), May 24th, 2011 @ 7:06am

    Secondary or Accessory?

    How much are you allowed to work with an entity known to be committing a crime before you move from being secondary to an accessory?

    Harbouring a fugitive is an approximate parallel. By giving them a place to rest, you're not exactly directly involved in the crime, but you are indirectly helping them in their criminal activities. And yet it's a crime.

    There is a line somewhere here, it's just a matter if where it lies.

     

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    sumquy (profile), May 24th, 2011 @ 9:15am

    an interesting question and an interesting debate. one thing that struck me is the automatic response from numerous commenters that what cisco did should be against the law or that they should be civilly liable. or that they should not be criminal/liable, and everything is fine here. nothing to see. move along please. personally, i think that their is a better way.

    for those calling for laws/judgements, i ask, do you really want the government involved? the answer to that depends, i suspect, on if you believe the government is capable anymore of actually making laws that benefit the people instead of the lobbyists. i am dubious on this proposition myself.

    the internet, however, has forever changed the way we communicate with people. public exposure and condemnation is, imho, the most effective deterrent to shady dealings.
    if cisco becomes publicly reviled for their actions and large groups of people equate their brand with greed and a willingness to make a buck before ethical considerations, how hard do you think microsoft and ibm, and sun microsystems will think before accepting similar contracts?

    i guess i have more faith in corporations (even ones such as those named) to recognize their own self interest than i do in government to...well, do anything really. it's not a perfect solution. for instance it leaves the folks from falun gong, in this case, sol, but we as a people need to stop looking for the government to jump in and solve every issue.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, May 24th, 2011 @ 9:59am

      Re:

      I was thinking along these lines as well - you mention using the internet as a mediator for company behavior, but you could even take it a step further than that. If the internet mediates this kind of behavior from companies, how long will it be before the governments (who now have no companies with which to do business) start to change as well?

      Communication technologies are awesome.

       

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    sumquy (profile), May 24th, 2011 @ 3:10pm

    ATCA? air traffic controllers association?

     

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    Shane Roach (profile), May 25th, 2011 @ 5:13pm

    Legal?

    Whether or not something is legal in the criminal sense has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not there is a legitimate civil tort. Yes, doing business with someone while being fully aware these people are going to purposefully use your work to harm others, thus causing them financial loss, is perfectly reasonable grounds for a lawsuit.

    Helping the Chinese torture people OUGHT to be illegal, but that's a different subject.

     

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