Doe v. Cisco Systems

Among the cases that will be affected by the Kiobel decision is Doe v. Cisco Systems, a case currently being litigated in California federal court against Cisco Systems, Inc., a major American network technology corporation. The plaintiffs allege that Cisco specifically designed network security software for the Chinese government to enable the targeting of dissidents for detention and torture.

The plaintiffs are a group of Falun Gong practitioners who have been subjected to serious human rights abuses in China through the use of China’s “Golden Shield” project. The Golden Shield is an unprecedented network security system used for the widespread censorship, surveillance, identification, tracking, apprehension, and torture of Chinese dissidents. The lawsuit alleges that Cisco has been the major provider of network security “solutions” in China since the late 1990s and has played a central role in the design and implementation of the Golden Shield, despite widespread knowledge that its primary purpose is to facilitate the violent persecution of dissident groups.

Cisco allegedly designed and implemented entire network security systems with features customized specifically to target Falun Gong practitioners, and integrated these systems into the Chinese security infrastructure to allow police and security officials to monitor, profile, apprehend, detain, and “transform” practitioners through the use of torture. These systems were unprecedented in terms of their scope and scale and required extensive customization by Cisco.

The plaintiffs allege that they were apprehended and detained merely for engaging in Internet activity such as visiting Falun Gong websites, discussing the practice of Falun Gong online, and sharing information about the widespread human rights abuses suffered by Falun Gong practitioners in China. They further allege that Cisco knowingly and purposely marketed, sold, tested and maintained high level Internet surveillance and security system solutions to identify, blacklist, track, surveil, locate, apprehend, interrogate, forcibly convert, wrongfully detain, and in other ways persecute and suppress Plaintiffs and other persons similarly situated in China. Without the aid of Cisco, the violations would not have occurred in the same way, if at all.

While detained, the plaintiffs allege that they were beaten, deprived of sleep, forced to eat laundry detergent, electrocuted with electric batons, drugged, and subjected to numerous other brutal human rights abuses. One of the plaintiffs was beaten to death while in custody, while another has disappeared and is presumed dead. Complaints that Cisco is complicit in these abuses have repeatedly fallen on deaf ears, and Cisco allegedly continues to work with Chinese security officials to this day. Litigation under the Alien Tort Statute is one of the few remaining tools to ensure Cisco is held accountable for its conduct.

Read more about Doe v. Cisco on the website of the Human Rights Law Foundation.