(Reuters) – Two lawsuits by three Chinese dissidents and a human rights group accusing Cisco Systems Inc. of abetting imprisonment and torture could have far-reaching impact on how U.S. technology companies conduct business in authoritarian regimes.
The lawsuits filed in May and June target a second technology company for complicity in human rights abuses in China after Yahoo Inc. in 2007 paid to settle a case in which it was accused of aiding the prosecution of dissidents.
Both cases could provide answers to an evolving legal question: Can U.S. companies be held liable if foreign governments use their products for repression?
The first lawsuit, filed in May by the Human Rights Law Foundation in Washington in the Federal District Court in San Jose, California, accuses Cisco of designing products to help the Chinese government persecute members of China’s banned spiritual group, Falun Gong.
Last Friday, the rights group amended its original complaint, saying it had new evidence that Cisco customized its products specifically to enable the authorities to persecute members of Falun Gong, some of whom were alleged to have been tortured and killed by the Chinese authorities.