Artificial intelligence and the internet of things have the potential to drive unprecedented productivity, reduce pollution, and improve human health. With the rollout of advanced, high speed wireless connectivity known as 5G in the next few years, the number of connected devices will explode: 28.5 billion devices are expected to be networked by 2022 growing to 300 billion connected devices and things by 2030.

Examples abound:  the city of Barcelona saves $58 million a year using IOT sensors for connected water management, and the World Food Programme’s Mobile Vulnerability Analysis and Mapping tool is piloting AI-enabled chatbots to enhance data collection, reach beneficiaries in new ways, and become more effective as a global hunger organization, and my own Apple Watch warns me when my heart is beating abnormally fast (to date, fortunately, only when I’m intentionally exercising). To help networks themselves work better, Cisco recently launched Encrypted Traffic Analytics, an AI-driven solution using machine learning to analyze encrypted network traffic, and automatically identify and eliminate malware threats, allowing the information to remain encrypted and helping protect privacy and data security simultaneously.

With opportunity comes responsibility. Technological transformation must be managed to protect and enhance fundamental societal values of human freedom, autonomy and privacy. As connections multiply, the threat landscape grows. Disruptive technologies can lead to unintended risks to freedom of expression, access to employment, and privacy. As set out in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, Cisco has a responsibility to respect human rights. Innovation must advance hand in hand with thoughtful policies and practices, including undertaking due diligence on how new products and services may impact human rights in the future.

To tackle this responsibility head on, Cisco has published new human rights position statements setting out our perspective on potential human rights impacts of disruptive technologies and how we intend to address those potential impacts. The Statements cover six innovations of greatest relevance for Cisco: encryption, data localization and sovereignty, surveillance by governments, Internet of things, big data analytics, and artificial intelligence.

The Statements describe activities that we at Cisco are taking to address human rights impacts. These include making extensive use of encryption, never deliberately building “backdoors” into our products, and supporting increased dialogue between professions to improve collective understanding of human rights impacts of AI, as well as supporting academic programs that enhance ethics and human rights training in the technical professions. Cisco’s human rights priorities moving forward include assessing the potential human rights risks and opportunities of new products, integrating human rights factors into the sales process, and raising awareness among relevant Cisco employees, such as engineers and sales people, of our human rights commitments and responsibilities. As an example of our activities, two months ago I was honored, on behalf of Cisco, to host Professor Dirk Heckmann of the University of Passau, a member of the German government’s Data Ethics Commission, for a no-holds barred discussion with members of the German Bundestag.

The human rights impacts of disruptive technologies cannot be addressed by Cisco alone. An essential common thread running throughout our Statements is that the human rights impacts of disruptive technologies are system wide challenges of relevance across the whole value chain. For this reason, Cisco is an active participant in a wide range of policy, standards-setting, and industry organizations and initiatives that are helping shape the future norms, standards, and approaches of relevance for technology and human rights. Our participation in these various forums is based on the Statements.

We live in exciting times, and the positive social and environmental impact of technology is becoming more real and more significant every day. By implementing that technology respectful of human rights we guarantee a better future.

You can learn more in our 2018 CSR Report.


Mark Chandler

Retired | Executive Vice President

Chief Legal and Compliance Officer