Worldwide, there’s a growing need to hold firms accountable that develop tools enabling governmental repression. These tools, including large-scale surveillance systems and state-backed malware, are often used to target and abuse journalists, activists, and certain communities, infringing upon their human rights.
The Ninth Circuit has created a legal pathway for holding US tech companies, like Cisco Systems, responsible when they aid in human rights abuses committed by foreign governments. This landmark decision occurred in the case “Doe I v. Cisco Systems”
The court’s verdict is particularly significant because it enables the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), a key legal provision, to be used for holding companies accountable when they prioritize profit over people’s lives. The court allowed victims to sue Cisco Systems for its role in the development and deployment of the “Golden Shield”, a vast surveillance system used by the Chinese government to violate human rights.
The Ninth Circuit’s ruling determined that a company could be held liable for aiding in human rights abuses, even if it didn’t directly commit these abuses. The legitimate use of a technology does not exempt a company from liability if the tech is also used to facilitate human rights abuses. This significant judgment is a triumph for human rights and for those advocating to prevent US companies from assisting repressive governments.