A northern Californian advocacy wants the nation’s highest court to use every legal avenue to stop American-owned enterprises that profit from helping international human rights abusers.
Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) recently filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court to urge the judicial authority to hold businesses accountable if they act as “repression’s little helpers” out of commercial interest.
“Surveillance, communications and database systems, just to name a few, have been used by foreign governments—with the full knowledge of and assistance by the U.S. companies selling those technologies–to spy on and track down activists, journalists, and religious minorities who have been imprisoned, tortured, and even killed,” EFF said in a statement.
The San Francisco based nonprofit organization wants the Supreme Court to bring a judgment that allows foreign nationals to sue U.S. corporations for “aiding and abetting gross human rights abuses.”
“Preserve one of the few tools of legal accountability that exist for companies that intentionally aid and abet foreign repression, the Alien Tort Statute (ATS,)” EFF said. “The ATS allows noncitizens to bring a civil claim in U.S. federal court against a defendant that violated human rights laws.”
Corporations duck accountability
However, American companies are fighting the request by claiming they cannot be held accountable under the law and only individuals can. Technology giant Cisco Systems Inc. recently used this same reasoning to avoid blame for helping the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) custom-build the so called “Great Firewall” or “Golden Shield,” which allows it to monitor and censor internet activities across mainland China.
Marketing documents obtained by EFF show Cisco allegedly pitched a “Falun Gong module” to help the CCP target anyone who practices the peaceful meditation exercises or tries to behave truthfully, compassionately, or tolerantly in their daily lives. The CCP has arbitrarily detained, tortured, organ harvested, and killed at least 4,363 adherents who refused to renounce their beliefs as early as 1999 according to the Minghui website.
“That helped Chinese authorities efficiently identify and locate members of the Falun Gong (also known as Falun Dafa) religious minority, who were then apprehended and subjected to torture, forced conversion, and other human rights abuses,” the foundation said. “Falun Gong practitioners sued Cisco under the ATS in a case currently pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. EFF has filed briefs siding with the plaintiffs throughout the case.”
Multiple companies complicit
The Falun Dafa Information Center (FDIC) revealed Cisco is just one of many American companies that helped the CCP spy on internet users.
“Other Western companies like Nortel, Intel, Yahoo, and Google have armed the communist party with the ability to control and monitor cyberspace,” the FDIC website said. “Hundreds, if not thousands of Falun Gong adherents have been arrested in such a manner for sending information overseas, exposing the persecution they are facing or telling fellow Chinese about it in personal email communications. The vast majority of reports about the persecution of Falun Gong.”
A 2012 study from Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society reveals searches on keywords with Falun Gong are also among the most tightly blocked on Chinese filters.
“The censorship program is aimed at curtailing collective action by silencing comments that represent, reinforce, or spur social mobilization, regardless of content,” the study abstract said.
‘Huge mistake’ can be avoided
EFF believes it would be a “huge mistake” if American corporations were allowed to continue to “aid and abet” the CCP and other foreign powers that abuse human rights.
“We urge the Supreme Court to hold that U.S. courts are open when a U.S. tech company decides to put profits over basic human rights, and people in foreign countries are seriously harmed or killed by those choices,” the foundation said. “When technology corporations custom-make products for governments that are plainly using them to commit human rights abuses, they cross a moral, ethical, and legal line.”