The issue of whether technology companies help oppressive governments censor or spy on their citizens has floated under the radar for some time. Now comes an investigation into whether Cisco Systems Inc. (CSCO) is helping officials in Saudi Arabia implement Big Brother-like surveillance systems.
BusinessWeek writer Peter Burrows has spent a lot of time researching and writing about Internet censorship in Saudi Arabia. As part of that research, he found that Cisco could be aiding censors with the deployment of a 250,000-camera system.
But Cisco has never “been caught in the act,” Burrows writes. “The closest thing to proof was a PowerPoint presentation crated by a mid-level staffer that suggested Cisco knew the Chinese government intended to use its technology against the Falun Gong, which led to a Congressional hearing on the topic. But most experts didn’t think it amounted to that smoking gun, and Cisco publicly apologized for what it called a violation of company ethics policy.”
The question of how America and other democracies might be contributing to oppression and censorship through technology is not a popular one. But it needs to be discussed. Because if we aid others’ repressive efforts, we are well on our way to inviting Big Brother into our own country.
Oh wait. Too late.