As WIRED is reporting, a leaked Cisco presentation (online here) makes clear that, in 2002, Cisco team members saw censorship in China as an opportunity to sell equipment to the state. The presentation, in slide 57, cites what appears to be a Chinese official saying that one of the goals of Operation Golden Shield (what we call the Great Firewall of China) is to “Combat ‘Falun Gong’ evil religion and other hostiles.”
Cisco has repeatedly said that it has nothing to account for with respect to its sales to China and other places that practice Internet filtering and surveillance. This leaked document (presuming it is not a forgery; Cisco does not seem to be disclaiming it) puts that argument to rest, once and for all.
Cisco has not been involved in the public effort by Microsoft, Yahoo!, Google and others to come up with a code of conduct for dealing with situations like these. Cisco should be involved. The fact that it is not involved, and that their involvement in this matter has been nothing but stonewalling, is inexcusable.
I have not been a supporter of passing a law like the Global Online Freedom Act in its current or historic form, because I think it would have too many unintended consequences. But if Cisco persists in stonewalling on this topic, I think it’s necessary for the government to jump in at some point with respect to sales by US technology firms to foreign governments that practice Internet censorship and surveillance in the absence of a rule of law.
And Cisco should not be hiding behind the hollow argument that their routers and switches can be used both for good purposes and for ill when it is now clear that 1) many states around the world are using this type of equipment to violate human rights and 2) that they have not just made sales to such states, but in fact targeted these “opportunities” that derive from online censorship.