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Nortel helping China to overhaul state surveillance architecture

Human rights activists cry foul

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Human rights activists have launched an attack on Nortel Networks, accusing it of contributing to human rights violations in China by helping the country overhaul its ageing surveillance technologies.

The "Great Firewall of China", which controls content entering the country, is failing, largely due to the increased volume of Internet traffic in China, so the Chinese are looking to build a more sophisticated system involving content filtration, and the monitoring of individual users.

That's one of the main conclusion in a report by The International Centre of Human Rights & Democratic Development (ICHRDD) which states: "Old style censorship is being replaced with a massive, ubiquitous architecture of surveillance: the Golden Shield."

"Ultimately the aim is to integrate a gigantic online database with an all-encompassing surveillance network - incorporating speech and face recognition, closed-circuit television, smart cards, credit records, and Internet surveillance technologies," it adds.

Many other Western firms are also involved in the development of China's state security apparatus but Nortel, which like the human rights group, is based in Canada, has come in for particular criticism in ICHRDD's report. Among the Nortel projects singled out for criticism are:


  • Nortel's joint research with Tsinghua University on speech recognition technology, for the purpose of automated surveillance of telephone conversations
  • The Canadian firm's support for FBI plans to develop a common standard to intercept telephone communications, known as CALEA, in conjunction with technology transfer through its joint venture, Guangdong Nortel (GDNT)
  • The promotion of JungleMUX which allows video surveillance data to be transported from remote cameras back to a centralized surveillance point at the Chinese Ministry of Public Security (MPS)
  • The deployment of Nortel's "Personal Internet" suite in Shanghai, "greatly enhancing the ability of Internet service providers to track the communications of individual users"
  • A US$10 million project, involving Nortel, to build a citywide fibre-optic broadband network in Shanghai (OPTera) enabling central authorities to monitor subscribers at the "edge" of the network, principally through the Shasta 5000 firewall.
  • Nortel's integration of face recognition and voice recognition technology in collaboration with AcSys Biometrics, a subsidiary of Canadian firm NEXUS


Nortel is no stranger to controversy with its Personal Internet technology, which was criticised on its announcement in February by consumers activists and anti-junk mail campaigners, and has rejected ICHRDD criticism.

"Nortel Networks categorically rejects in the strongest possible terms the notion that we are collaborating with any government to repress the human rights or democracy of its citizens," a statement by Nortel said.

"Nortel Networks is a longstanding supplier of advanced telecommunications products and technology in China where we have a broad range of customers. Nortel Networks sells the same range of products and solutions in China as we do elsewhere."

This response cut little ice with ICHRDD which believes Nortel's technology will be used to clamp down on political dissent.

On September 28, four Chinese citizens were tried for subversion for participating in an on-line pro democracy forum. The four are but the most recent of several arrests in recent years for Internet-related crimes.

Pacific rim leaders are expected to announce an "anti-terrorism" pact at the APEC summit this week which human rights advocates fear could be used to excuse increased crackdowns on Internet privacy and human rights, particularly in authoritarian states such as China. ®

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External Links

Nortel technology threatens human rights in China (press release by ICHRDD)
China's Golden Shield: Corporations and the Developement of Surveillance Technology in the People's Republic of China (report by ICHRDD)

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