NETWORK EQUIPMENT PROVIDER Cisco will help the Chinese government build a 500,000 camera network that officials say will prevent crime.
According to the Wall Street Journal Cisco will supply networking equipment to link up 500,000 cameras throughout the city of Chongqing. The Chinese government claims the network will prevent crime, but human rights advocates have said that the extensive camera network can be used to target political dissent.
The US government has outlawed the export of "crime-control products" to China since the Tiananmen Square protests that were broken up by force by the Chinese government. According to the WSJ, the restrictions do not stop firms from flogging items such as cameras to the Chinese government, though these cannot be customised for crime control. The WSJ adds that there is no indication that the equipment Cisco is selling is being tweaked for crime control.
It's not surprising that companies such as Cisco want to sell equipment to China. After all it's the fastest growing market and companies could legitimately question whether they should be held accountable for the actions of others, even if their equipment is used.
Nevertheless, a spokesman for Cisco told the WSJ that the firm "hasn't sold video cameras or video-surveillance solutions in any of our public infrastructure projects in China".
Cisco isn't the only firm to have big aspirations in China. Last week HP issued a press released entitled "HP Deepens Commitment to China" outlining investments in cloud computing, research and social media. HP CEO Leo Apotheker didn't even try to mask the reason why his firm was in China, saying, "China's vibrant economy, explosive growth in social and mobile connectivity, and strong commitment to innovation present tremendous opportunities for HP."
As for the potential uses for HP kit, Todd Bradley, the EVP in charge of HP's China strategy told the WSJ last week, "We take them at their word as to the usage." He added, "It's not my job to really understand what they're going to use it for. Our job is to respond to the bid that they've made."
Both Cisco's and HP's actions once again raise the question of ethics in big business. There's no doubt that both firms' legal departments have advised that the US government won't stop them from flogging equipment to China, but the more pertinent question is whether they should be selling equipment that could be used against the Chinese people. µ
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