(Minghui.org) “To this day, Falun Gong practitioners are still being targeted by these systems, even outside of China. Practitioners might feel safe in America, but their electronic signals? They’re there for anyone who wants to look at them unless they’re protected,” said Ethan Gutmann.
Ethan Gutmann is an award-winning China analyst and human rights investigator, author of Losing the New China: A Story of American Commerce, Desire and Betrayal and The Slaughter: Mass Killings, Organ Harvesting, and China’s Secret Solution to Its Dissident Problem. He has written for publications such as The Wall Street Journal Asia, The Weekly Standard, National Review, and Investor’s Business Daily, while giving testimony and briefings to the U.S. Congress, the CIA, the European Parliament, and the United Nations.
In the 1990s, Gutmann worked as a business consultant in China. In July 2001, he spoke with two Cisco engineers in China, who told him that Cisco beat its competitors by custom building a “special box.” This box could be used to look at packets of information transmitted over the Internet.
In 2002, Gutmann attended a surveillance conference in Shanghai and spoke with Cisco salespeople. A Cisco salesperson explained to him that with certain mobile devices, the police could actually stop Falun Gong practitioners on the street. Just by entering a practitioner’s name and some identifiers on the mobile device, they could read the practitioner’s sensitive information, such as emails, from the prior three months.
Keywords the Chinese Public Security Bureau looked for included “turmoil,” “Xinjiang,” “Falun Gong,” “Catholicism,” and “Christ.”
Gutmann obtained firsthand information about Cisco’s capabilities from sales representatives at the Cisco booth and from Cisco’s Chinese brochures. Gutmann talked to a Cisco salesman and asked him, “Can this target Falun Gong?” The salesman said, “Yeah, it’s made to do that. It can target Falun Gong through their email.”
Gutmann said that China needed help from the West to implement this level of tracking. Because it provided this capability, Cisco was able to enter the Chinese router market.
Gutmann said, “There are plenty of Falun Gong refugees who were in that detention centre and severely persecuted because of what Cisco did. Cisco provided the net for the Chinese Public Security Bureau to capture these practitioners.”
On July 7, 2023, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a lower district court could proceed in hearing a lawsuit filed by Falun Gong practitioners accusing Cisco and two of its former executives for assisting the CCP regime in tracking and persecuting Falun Gong practitioners.
Hearing the Ninth Circuit ruling, Gutmann said, “My mouth fell agape. I was genuinely surprised and pleased by the Ninth Circuit’s decision.”
Gutmann said the case is a reminder of how companies became corrupt in China by thinking only about short-term interests; they were attracted by the growth in the Chinese economy and made very stupid mistakes.
Attorney Kathy Roberts: A Little Light in A Dark Sky
“I was excited to hear about the judgment. The plaintiffs have been waiting for justice for so long, and this decision signals that their case will finally move forward,” said Attorney Kathy Roberts.
Roberts is a founding co-director of Partners in Justice International. For nearly two decades, Roberts has represented victims and survivors of human rights violations and international atrocities in court. Her work for victims in Somalia has been widely reported in the United States and Africa, including on ABC’s 20/20 program and CNN Investigates.
“I think that to the Falun Gong survivors, as well as for other survivors in China, it is a bit of light in an otherwise pretty dark sky,” said Roberts. “The message is that there’s no place to hide, even if you’re only providing assistance to these kinds of crimes seemingly on the side. You are also responsible and you’re going to get caught. If you know that what you’re doing is going to contribute to atrocity violations, that’s a crime. So don’t do it.
“I do hope that the investors and stakeholders who are involved in other companies, when they hear about this decision, will say, ‘let’s take a look at what we’re involved in, and is it crossing any of these lines?’ Ideally, it will spur those who aren’t already to look beyond the stakes of their own businesses to see the potential dire consequences some engagements can have for others.
“This kind of case can have enormous meaning for people who otherwise have no expectation of justice. It may give them hope that the perpetrators are not going to get entirely away with it,” Roberts said.
“On one level, these kinds of cases can never be adequate to justice that the victims really deserve. Even if Cisco were held to account and all the plaintiffs got a huge monetary award, no amount of money can truly compensate for these kinds of crimes. But money damages are the language of justice in civil court, and a monetary award can have a big symbolic value.”
Attorney Sophia Cope: This Is A Tremendous Victory
“The Ninth Circuit’s decision is great news, not only for the plaintiffs, but for all victims of human rights abuses facilitated by U.S. corporations,” said Attorney Sophia Cope.
Cope, a senior staff attorney on the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s civil liberties team, wrote an Amicus Curiae Brief in the Cisco case. She works on a variety of free speech and privacy issues. She has been a civil liberties attorney for nearly two decades and has extensive experience in litigation and policy advocacy. Her articles have appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian of the UK, Slate and The Huffington Post.
“In a tremendous victory for the victims of those tools of repression, the Ninth Circuit cleared a path of legal accountability for American technology companies who build tools that facilitate human rights abuses by foreign governments,” Cope said. “EFF filed multiple amicus briefs in the case, including in the Ninth Circuit.”
According to Cope, the thirteen plaintiffs alleged arrest, detention, and torture, including of themselves and family members, at least one of whom died by beating while being detained. The claims are horrific and echo reports by the U.S. State Department and many human rights NGOs. They include claims that the plaintiffs were placed in forced labor camps, beaten with steel rods, shocked with electric batons, and endured sleep deprivation and violent force-feeding. The plaintiffs also alleged that their private emails, text messages, and other information—intercepted by the Golden Shield—were shown to them and used as part of their torture and forced conversion, including threats to their family members and others who communicated with them.
“There’s much more in the opinion, including allowing a claim to move forward against Cisco’s top executives under another law, the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA),” Cope said. “Overall, the Ninth Circuit’s opinion is a tremendous victory for human rights and for those who want to ensure that U.S. companies stop helping repressive governments.”
Chinese version available