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 Infrastructure 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 suppress 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 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 business (and those individuals responsible for them) from physical and moral consequences of their actions.