Helping Big Brother go high tech

12 Sep 2006
00:00
Helping Big Brother Go High Tech
Cisco, Oracle, and other U.S. companies are supplying China's police with software and gear that can be used to keep tabs on criminals and dissidents

Google, (

GOOG

) Yahoo!, (

YHOO

) and Microsoft (

MSFT

) endured a wave of public disapproval earlier this year over their compliance with Chinese censorship of their Web sites. But another striking form of tech commerce with China is taking place below the radar of the U.S. public: Major American manufacturers are rushing to supply China's police with the latest information technology.

ORCL

) has sold software to the Chinese Ministry of Public Security, which oversees both criminal and ideological investigations. The ministry uses the software to manage digital identity cards that are replacing the paper ID that Chinese citizens must carry. Meanwhile, regional Chinese police departments are modernizing their computer networks with routers and switches purchased from Cisco Systems Inc. (

CSCO

) And Motorola Inc. (

MOT

) has sold the Chinese authorities handheld devices that will allow street cops to tap into the sorts of sophisticated data repositories that EMC Corp. (

EMC

) markets to the Ministry of Public Security.

'It's a booming market,' says Simon Zhou, the top executive in Beijing for EMC, which is based in Hopkinton, Mass. 'We can expect big revenue from public security' agencies in China.

The scramble to sell technology to Chinese law enforcers seems, for starters, to be at odds with the intent of an American export law enacted after the massacre of hundreds of pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square in 1989. The Tiananmen sanctions prohibited the export 'of any crime control or detection instruments or equipment' to China. 'We wanted to undermine the effectiveness of the police in rounding up, imprisoning, and torturing political dissidents, not only those involved in the Tiananmen Square movement, but for years to come,' explains Representative Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), who helped draft the law.

NO HANDCUFFS

American manufacturers say they have no obligation or ability to determine whether Chinese security forces use the technology for political repression. On the contrary, American capitalism improves the lot of ordinary Chinese, some executives contend. 'Anything that helps China to modernize will help China to improve its human rights situation,' says John S. Chen, chief executive of Sybase Inc., a Dublin (Calif.) company that sells database programs to the Shanghai police.

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