Doing the Devil's Work
The Internet, with its freedom of communication, scares a lot of people. Some people argue that this is “just political,” but its not. Chinese repression includes information about health issues, such as the abuse of antibiotics to control avian flu. (See, for example, “Bird Flu Drug Rendered Useless in the Washington Post.)
The companies that customize their products for repressive governments need to be held accountable for those choices. Those companies include Cisco, covered by Rebecca MacKinnon in posts like “More on Cisco in China” and Secure Computing, covered in “Iranian net censorship powered by….Silicon Valley.” (I’m told that Secure sells to the middle east out of their Toronto office, and that at least in the United Arab Emirates, their product is regularly updated.)
I believe companies have an ethical obligation to not ignore how their products are being used, and that to various degrees, Cisco and Secure Computing are shirking that responsibility. Please note I’m not saying that companies shouldn’t sell their base products (unless the law prohibits it). I’m objecting to the customization work that these companies do for these governments.
Regardless of your opinion of the value of free speech, you should be concerned that public health officials can’t get the information they need, because American companies collaborate to keep us in the dark.