Cisco Denies Aiding Chinese Web Censorship

Dennis Faas's picture

Cisco has denied a human rights activist group's claims that the company is helping China's government censor access to websites among its population. The claims came after the Global Internet Freedom Consortium (a group which campaigns against Internet censorship and produces tools for getting round government firewalls) published a leaked slide from a 2002 Cisco presentation about potential business in China.

The group claims the slide, which refers to China's Internet monitoring scheme being used to combat Falun Gong (an outlawed spiritual group the slide describes as "an evil cult"), backs its allegations that Cisco was willing to customise equipment to aid in the censorship.

Mark Chandler, the head lawyer for Cisco, told a Senate hearing that the firm's networking technology "can unfortunately be used by network administrators for political and other purposes." However, although the company has sold equipment to the Chinese government, he denies Cisco has offered any help, whether modifying equipment or training officials, that could directly aid censorship. (Source:

The hearing also featured evidence from Yahoo and Google, both of whom are subject to censorship by the Chinese government. One Senator pointed out that while searching for images of Tiananmen Square on brings up photographs of the 1989 student protests, the same search on Google's Chinese site merely shows tourist-style photos.

A Chinese company now runs Yahoo's operations in the country and appears to regularly meet government demands to hand over the identity of Chinese web users who oppose the government. Yahoo admitted at the hearing that they have little control over this process.

Both companies argued that a censored version of their search engine is better than nothing because it at least increased the amount of information available to Chinese web users. But neither has yet met a January 2007 commitment to develop a code of conduct with human rights groups to govern their policies in foreign countries. (Source:

The politicians involved in the hearings say they are considering whether to put forward new legislation governing the way US Internet companies work with foreign governments. It's difficult to see how American lawmakers could regulate the issue of censorship simply because the mix of U.S., international and (for example) Chinese law would be extremely complex.

Still, there's certainly a strong moral argument for making sure Internet companies do everything possible to avoid putting users at potential risk by handing over their identities to hostile governments.

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