Nortel Technology Threatens Human Rights in China


News Release

MONTREAL, 18 OCTOBER, 2001 – A new report released today by Rights & Democracy reveals that the Canadian telecommunications giant Nortel Networks may be contributing to human rights violations in the People’s Republic of China. The report points specifically to Nortel’s OPTera technology to be launched in China this week at the APEC Leaders Meeting in Shanghai.

China’s Golden Shield: Corporations and the Development of Surveillance Technology in the People’s Republic of China describes how technology developed for commercial purposes by transnational corporations, including Nortel, is being used by Chinese police and security forces to refine the targetting and repression of political dissidents. It also provides an overview of Nortel’s long-standing involvement in the development of surveillance technology both at home and abroad.

Journalists covering the APEC meeting of 21 leaders, including US President George Bush and Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chr?tien, will file their stories using Shanghai’s new state-of-the-art citywide broadband network, purchased from Nortel.

“Although the network will provide western journalists with an efficient communication system, it will also provide Chinese authorities with an unprecedented ability to conduct surveillance and monitor the activities of human rights and democracy advocates,” Warren Allmand, President of Rights & Democracy, today told a news conference in Montreal.

“Nortel is fundamentally changing the way content will be delivered across tomorrow’s broadband Internet. Its Personal Internet strategy is all based on developing an intimate knowledge of an individual user’s identity: their physical location and their content interests – not merely IP addressing,” said the author of the report Greg Walton. “We are seeing the focus shift to censorship and surveillance of homes and offices; in effect, redistributing China’s “Great Firewall” from the international gateways to millions of PCs. ”

China still equates political dissent with criminal activity. 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. APEC leaders are expected to announce an “anti-terrorism” pact at the APEC summit which many human rights advocates fear could be used to excuse increased crackdowns on Internet privacy, freedom of opinion, freedom of expression and the right of association, particulary in authoritarian states such as China.

“Civil liberties form the cornerstone of democracy and underpin the promotion and protection of other human rights”, Mr. Allmand said. “They are protected by a number of agreements and treaties, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which both Canada and China have ratified.”

He urged the Government of Canada to incorporate human rights safeguards within its domestic trade and investment promotion activities in relation to the Peoples Republic of China. Pointing to the myriad of processes and resources devoted towards the promotion of trade with China, Mr. Allmand said, “Chinese activists are risking lengthy imprisonment or worse for simply advocating political reform in their country. They need our support, not our complicity in the violation of their rights.”

China’s Golden Shield is accompanied by a CD-ROM containing the report in English, French and Chinese. The CD-ROM is a user-friendly package which includes additional information on China’s Internet and domestic legislations, related Web links and several different privacy software programmes. The software on the CD-ROM can be downloaded from the Internet without problem if you live in Canada, the US, Europe or mot other other countries but access to it is blocked from China.

China’s Golden Shield is a also a living document. Readers can contribute comments and suggestions to the online version by visiting The go.openflows Web site also features news stories and commentary on technology, privacy and human rights in China.