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Chinese panopticon courtesy of Cisco

Rebecca MacKinnon blogs about her communication with Ethan Gutmann, author of Losing the New China: A Story of American Commerce, Desire and Betrayal.

One of the chapters is about Cisco’s business in China and the extent to which they actively supply Chinese law enforcement with censorship and surveillance technology. Cisco denies, Gutman responds by making available Cisco brochure from the China Information Infrastucture Expo 2002. There is also a very sound argument about why this matters and why Cisco (or anyone else) should not be allowed to get away with profiting from assisting the state to surpress the freedom of individuals. That is the kind of ‘social responsibility’ I can support.

As you know, the Chinese authorities don’t want to block the web. They want Chinese users to practice self-censorship. Surveillance, and the awareness of surveillance leads to self-censorship and that’s where Cisco comes in. Cisco has built the structure for the national PSB [Public Security Bureau] database, and as of June 2003, it is already resident in every province of China, except Sichuan. Police can access a suspect’s political history, imaging information, the lot, and read their email at will. Cisco calls it “Policenet”.

This is the scary stuff of Panopticon. The real deal that the combination of the totalitarian nature of the Chinese government and technology has made possible. The argument that if Cisco does not follow the ‘demand’ created by the Chinese authorities, someone else will, does not hold – it absolves businesses (and those individuals responsible for them) from the physical and moral consequences of their actions.

via Instapundit

6 comments to Chinese panopticon courtesy of Cisco

  • This was a posting that Adriana prepared earlier, as it were, and left for me to stick up today, in case Samizdata had no postings at all (what with her and Perry being temporarily out of action and the country). So, it was written in ignorance of today’s bomb dramas in London.

    It was my decision to post it as promised, rather than hold it back. Life goes on. The London death toll so far is about 40, and that’s terrible, but there are other miseries in the world, and, as Dale’s posting today makes clear, other pleasures still being enjoyed. I think we shouldn’t focus only on our local miseries. (See also my comment on Dale’s posting.)

    Anyway, if you think blogging about other stuff today is tasteless, blame me for this posting rather than Adriana.

  • http://tjic.com/blog/?p=883

    Beyond mere condemnation, though, anyone who help fascist regimes violate human rights deserves to be put in front of a judge…and if a somewhat-better-than-others State will not do it, then citizens should step forward and do it.

    If the United States does not put John Chambers (CEO of Cisco) on trial, then some ad-hoc, impromptu organization should.

  • Cisco’s behavior toward Fernando Gont alone is shameful:


    Their representatives’ attitude toward the people of China is despicable.

  • Bernie

    Great post Adriana and I for one certainly don’t have any problem with it on this day.

    I agree there can be a genuine and proper usage of the term “social responsibility”.

  • Edward

    To TJIC: With what crime would you charge him? No western court has the jurisdiction to punish what Cisco does in China. Nor should they.

    You’re unlikely to achieve a free-market end if you employ coercive means.

    The best solution is market pressure. See how many customers are willing to vote with their dollars against Cisco’s policies. That’s the most objectively fair way to regulate any business.

    Of course, this is where a vigorous free press would be handy.

  • I think Cisco’s priority should be to get the internet in China, even if it means providing censorship technology. Once it is in place, it’s only a matter of time before the people will figure out how to outsmart the government systems.