Cisco Denies China Censorship Complicity

Critics take aim at the network gear maker's alleged cooperation with China's virtual curtain.

WASHINGTON-Cisco Systems has strongly denied that it cooperates with the Chinese government in censoring Falun Gong or other dissident groups. The accusations arose from a 6-year-old sales document produced by Cisco that refers to the Chinese government's efforts to quash the religious movement.

At the time, Cisco was approaching the Chinese government in hopes of selling network gear to the regime's Golden Shield project, which aims to suppress Internet expression by "Falong Gong and other hostile elements." The document was the key evidence introduced May 20 here at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on U.S. Internet companies' dealings with repressive governments.

According to the 90-page PowerPoint presentation, Cisco followed a slide about the Chinese government's efforts to suppress Falun Gong and "other hostile elements" with a slide stating, "Cisco Opportunity: High start-point planning, High standard construction, Technical training, Security and operation maintenance."

"The ... areas of potential assistance appear to flatly rebut Cisco's repeated and self-serving claims it has merely sold routers and other equipment to China's security services," Shiyu Zhou, deputy director of the Global Internet Freedom Consortium, told lawmakers.

Is there a secret hacking war between China and the United States? Click here to read more.

Cisco, though, claimed it was all a misunderstanding created by a low-level Cisco Chinese engineer. "I was appalled when I saw the line in the slide, and I'm very disappointed to see it," said Cisco Senior Vice President Mark Chandler.

A Cisco fact sheet distributed to the media claims the PowerPoint presentation does "not represent Cisco's views, principles, or its sales and marketing strategy or approach."

Chandler said the presentation merely listed the Chinese government's goals.

He added, "Cisco ... has not and does not design products to accommodate political censorship. The tools built into our products that enable site filtering are the same the world over, whether sold to governments, companies or network operators. The features in our equipment are 'off the shelf' and not altered in any way for any market or region."

Yahoo, Google share the hot seat

Also testifying before the committee were Yahoo and Google, which have also drawn concerned attention over their dealings with the Chinese government. In 2007, Yahoo raised the ire of congressional investigators for its role in disclosing the name of Chinese dissident Shi Tao to the government. Tao is now serving a 10-year prison sentence.

Google has been criticized for cooperating with the Chinese government in censoring certain search terms on the company's search engine.

Chandler said Cisco's operations in China were different from Yahoo's and Google's.

"Cisco is not a service or content provider, nor are we a network manager," he said. "Cisco does not customize, or develop specialized or unique filtering capabilities, in order to enable different regimes to block access to information."