Members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement have filed a lawsuit against Cisco Systems Inc. accusing it of supplying the Chinese government with computer-networking equipment used to spy on and persecute dissidents.
In a lawsuit filed last week, a group of Falun Gong practitioners alleges that Cisco provided networking gear and technical assistance to build and operate an elaborate system of Internet controls used by the Chinese government to track the online behavior of its citizens and block content it does not like.
The lawsuit accuses Cisco of aggressively marketing and customizing its products for the system, known as the Golden Shield Project, with the understanding that the technology would be used for spying on dissident groups such as the Falun Gong. By using Cisco equipment, the lawsuit said, government officials were able to monitor dissidents' activities, including online meetings of Falun Gong congregations. The lawsuit said some dissidents were detained, tortured and even killed as a result; others disappeared.
The lawsuit also names Cisco's top executives, including CEO John Chambers.
In a statement, Cisco rejected the allegations.
"Cisco does not operate networks in China or elsewhere, nor does Cisco customize our products in any way that would facilitate censorship or repression," the company said. "Cisco builds equipment to global standards which facilitate free exchange of information, and we sell the same equipment in China that we sell in other nations worldwide in strict compliance with U.S. government regulations."
The lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages and an injunction barring Cisco from engaging in "future unlawful activity."
The lawsuit was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in San Jose, Calif., where Cisco has its headquarters. The law firm of Schwarcz, Rimberg, Boyd & Rader and the Human Rights Law Foundation, a nonprofit group in Washington, brought the case under a U.S. law that allows foreign nationals to sue in federal court over violations of international law.