By Peter Kaplan
WASHINGTON, May 20 (Reuters) - Cisco Systems Inc (CSCO.O) on Tuesday denied allegations by a human rights activist who said the company had given Chinese authorities technical help in their efforts to censor the Internet. Appearing at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Cisco’s general counsel fended off criticism that stemmed from a 2002 document outlining a presentation by a Cisco engineer in China.
“We disavow the implication that this reflects in any way Cisco’s views or objectives,” Cisco General Counsel Mark Chandler said.
The document, a PowerPoint presentation that discussed Chinese government efforts to monitor the Internet, was cited by an official with the Global Internet Freedom Consortium as evidence that Cisco had offered to teach Chinese authorities how to use its equipment to censor the Internet.
The presentation from Cisco’s Beijing office listed a handful of goals of the Chinese government, including cracking down on the banned spiritual group Falun Gong.
Shiyu Zhou, the consortium’s deputy director, said the fight against Internet censorship “has been a lonely battle thus far and we are tired of having to fight our fellow American companies.”
The criticism comes as Cisco is trying to step up sales efforts in China, where it competes with Huawei Technologies Co Ltd [HWT.UL] as well as its U.S. rival Juniper Networks Inc JNPR.O.
China accounts for the largest portion of Cisco sales in the Asia-Pacific region. Asia accounts for 11 percent of total sales.
Also appearing at the hearing were executives from Google Inc (GOOG.O) and Yahoo Inc YHOO.O, both companies that have been accused by rights activists of being too cooperative with Chinese authorities.
Google and Yahoo said they would be open to a proposal that would establish a code of conduct for dealing with Internet censorship and have companies subject to outside monitoring.
Chandler, of Cisco, spent much of his time fending off questions about the 2002 PowerPoint presentation. He said Cisco was disappointed” that its engineer had included the government’s censorship objective in his presentation.
Chandler said that its standard routing equipment “can unfortunately be used by network administrators for political and other purposes.”
But he said the company does not offer customized equipment or training to be used for censorship. “In no case did the document propose any Cisco products be provided to facilitate the (censorship) goals of the government,” he said.
(Editing by Gerald E. McCormick)
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