Hiawatha Bray complains about something that actually matters — after all, who’s limiting the deployment of these routers to just China?: China’s Net police should worry US firms [pdf]
”It is quite simple,” said [Harry] Wu, now an American citizen and human rights activist. ”American business is not allowed to sell or export any equipment related to crime control to China.”
He’s right: A law passed after the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown put a stop to such trade.
Yet Wu says Cisco Systems Inc., one of the world’s leading data networking companies, is selling advanced gear to Chinese police agencies. This equipment has all manner of benign uses; it can improve communications between police stations, and ensure that cops respond faster to emergencies. But Cisco gear could also help the government block ”subversive” Web pages, record ”suspicious” e-mails, or tap the Internet phone calls of a billion Chinese.
Never mind the human rights implications. Such sales to China, Wu said, are just plain illegal.
[…] Because Cisco’s gear handles every bit of data, they can track everything happening on the network. That’s fine when they’re used in a business that needs to protect trade secrets. But in a country where every data network is owned by the state, Cisco gear could give the government a chokehold on information.
Ethan Gutmann thinks this is happening, and that Cisco is deliberately aiding China’s spies and censors. Gutmann, a former business consultant in China and author of the book ”Losing the New China,” tells of his chat with a Cisco sales representative at a Shanghai trade show in 2002. The Cisco rep, Gutmann said, bragged that his company’s products would let Chinese police track the e-mails and Web surfing of any suspicious citizen. ”They basically can plug in your name . . . and then they can start reading your e-mails for the last 60 days,” he said.
Gutmann passed this information to Harry Wu, along with a sales brochure that Wu has translated to English. The flier shows Cisco’s ”IP Telephone Solution for Police Routine Community Surveillance,” and shows how Cisco gear is already in use in China’s Qinghai Province, ”combining voice, video and data into one accessible resource to strengthen China’s law and order.”
[…] Cisco may not be violating US sanctions, even if the company’s gear is helping to stifle the freedom of millions. Proof that Cisco’s policies are legal might get Harry Wu off the company’s back. The rest of us shouldn’t be so easily satisfied.
Related from Tim Wu at Slate: The Filtered Future: China’s bid to divide the Internet. (slashdot: The Great Firewall of China, Continued)
China’s long-term vision is clear: an Internet that feels free and acts as an engine of economic progress yet in no way threatens the Communist Party’s monopoly on power. With every passing day the Chinese Internet reflects that vision more closely. It portends a future for the Web that we’re only beginning to understand—one in which powerful countries refashion the global network to suit themselves.