Feb 282012
 February 28, 2012  Posted by  Business, Court, Surveillance

Cindy Cohn and Trevor Timm write:


…  Aiding and abetting, and conspiracy to commit crimes, have long been illegal under U.S. law, and it’s not difficult to see how surveillance tools used to commit human rights violations — especially ones specifically and knowingly modified or supported by a company — could qualify under these or other longstanding laws. In fact, there are two pending cases in the U.S. right now raising those claims against Cisco based on evidence that the company knowingly marketed, sold and specially adapted and tools that the Chinese government uses to target Chinese democracy activists and members of the Falun Gong religious minority.

But the fate of two of the strongest legal tools to help dissuade technology companies from becoming “repression’s little helpers” may turn on a pair of cases before the U.S. Supreme Court now. The two cases, Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum and Mohamad v. Rojaub, ask a question that seems fairly ironic given the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Citizens’ United:Are corporations “individuals” for purposes of liability under human rights laws?

That’s right. Two years after holding that corporations must be allowed to fully participate in funding candidates in U.S. elections, the Supreme Court will consider whether corporations are nonetheless completely immune from claims alleging that they helped commit gross human rights abuses.

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