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Cisco Q&A on China and Censorship

March 2, 2006
at 12:00 pm PST

I wanted to bring your attention to a Q&A that is posted on Cisco’s external website on the issue of China and censorship. I have posted the Q&A here, but you can also access it at News@Cisco site at:http://newsroom.cisco.com/dlls/2006/hd_030106.html?sid=BAC-JsSyndMark Chandler, Cisco SVP and General Counsel, Talks About Censorship in ChinaMarch 1, 2006 On February 15th, Mark Chandler, Cisco’s senior vice president and general counsel, testified before a U.S. House of Representatives International Relations subcommittee on the issue of censorship in China. The title of the hearing was “The Internet in China: A Tool for Freedom or Suppression?” and full written testimony of Mr. Chandler and others can be accessed on the subcommittee website at: http://wwwc.house.gov/international_relations/afhear.htmNews@Cisco sat down with Mr. Chandler after his Washington trip to get his view of how the hearing went as well as other top questions on our mind.How did you think the hearing went?Mark Chandler: Obviously there are many conflicting viewpoints on the issue of technology and China, so I was glad we had the chance to testify and help set the record straight on how Cisco conducts business in China. It was important to provide clarity around what we do and what we do not do. We provide the same equipment worldwide that we provide in China. We have never partnered with the Chinese government to help them censor content, nor have we altered equipment for the Chinese government for the purposes of censorship. I hope that message got through at the hearing.There are still allegations that you have altered your equipment for the purposes of censorship. Why do you think that is?Mark Chandler: I think the allegations likely stem from a misunderstanding of thefunctionality of our equipment and, unfortunately, inaccurate claims made about Cisco’s actions in China. Cisco has not and does not design products for the purpose of political censorship.The equipment we sell in China is the same equipment we sell worldwide. We have not designed, marketed or altered equipment for the Chinese government. The filtering capabilities of all Internet routing equipment, necessary for protection against viruses, spam and denial of service attacks, can be used to block access to sites for political reasons, anywhere in the world.What are your views with regards to political censorship?Mark Chandler: Cisco strongly supports free expression on the Internet.At the hearing, you were asked if you were ashamed of doing business in China. Are you?Mark Chandler: We are proud of the impact of the Internet around the world, including in China. We entered the Chinese market in 1994 and since then the number of Chinese accessing the Internet has grown from 80,000 to over 110 million. We know that we have contributed to that growth.How does your equipment function?Mark Chandler: Cisco supplies equipment that provides network access -- anytime, anywhere access to the Internet. The features that a library or parent may use to block chat rooms or unsavory sites, however, can also be used to block political content. Cisco has no control over this as we don’t manage networks. If the company you work for doesn’t want you to access, say, ESPN.com at work because it isn’t productive or isn’t work related, well, they could configure their network to do that. These capabilities are the same worldwide and function, primarily, for network security -- for example, blocking sites that may have viruses. They also function as a way to block sites not deemed appropriate by the network owner.Could you disable those features when selling to China or other countries that may censor the Internet?Mark Chandler: Because of threats to networks around the world, there is no feasible way to disable those capabilities that may be used to block access for political reasons. Networks cannot function without network management and security protection capabilities. Otherwise, network administrators couldn’t protect us against hackers who want to try to shut down the Internet or steal personal information. Companies couldn’t stop employees from illegally downloading copyrighted music or videos or from accessing computer viruses. Libraries and parents couldn’t control access to pornography.These generic features are available from all major manufacturers, including at least a dozen U.S., Canadian, European and Chinese companies. While I cannot speak to the many other U.S. and foreign companies who have been cited as providing these functions to the Chinese authorities, these capabilities in Cisco’s equipment are “off the shelf” -- their designated uses are appropriate and essential.There has been a suggestion that routers such as the ones Cisco sells should be configured so words like “democracy” and “freedom” cannot be blocked. Is that possible?Mark Chandler: That is certainly a well-meaning idea but likely would be met by great opposition by anyone who wanted to block unsavory content. For example, if that proposal was implemented, those who distribute pornography could get aroundrestrictions merely by putting “democracy” or “freedom” in their website name. And,further, the functionality that provides the means to limit access is available from numerous non U.S. vendors around the world.Has Cisco broken any laws in doing business in China?Mark Chandler: Cisco’s policy is strict compliance with all U.S. government laws and regulations which prohibit the sale of our products to certain destinations and users, or to those who resell to prohibited users.Some have alleged that Cisco’s equipment is designed to help Chinese law enforcement conduct surveillance or censorship activities. Does China sell equipment to the Chinese police to support surveillance and censorship activities?Mark Chandler: Cisco sells data networking equipment around the world, including to law enforcement. Sales of equipment to law enforcement agencies in China are strictly controlled by the U.S. Government under the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, and Cisco’s policy is strict compliance with those rules. While data networking equipment can be used for any type of available data, including written, audio or video data, Cisco does not sell the equipment in a manner that is customized in any way for Chinese law enforcement to conduct surveillance activities.There is currently a bill before Congress that would restrict what technology can be sold to China. What are your thoughts on the legislation?Mark Chandler: I would expect that there would be a great deal of debate over such legislation. There would be many who would oppose it on the grounds that it would actually reduce free expression. If countries were encouraged to build their own Internet because we were not willing to engage and sell them the equipment that is readily available elsewhere in the world then that outcome would be very unfortunate.The power of the Internet to expand free expression depends on there being one global Internet. Policies which promote the balkanization of the Internet -- even inadvertently -- will undermine rather than support the many projects which help users evade censorship.

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2 Comments.


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  2. really this seems like a well drafted cover for the truth. Sure cisco may not alter their tech. when presenting and selling it to china, sure what china is doing to their citizens can be done by any government with your products around the world, but does that get you off the hook for providing people with the means to enslave the thoughts of billions of people? it may have been obvious what kind of government China has after the last 50 years to only few people i guess. Yes you will get off the hook. No legislation will be passed saying what you can and cannot sell.

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