Poor Cisco Systems (Nasdaq: CSCO). No matter what the networking giant does these days, nobody seems to like it.

The latest in a long line of woes comes as a potentially enormous deal to provide surveillance equipment to China. With some help from fellow tech pariah Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ), Cisco is said to have sold a network of 500,000 networked surveillance cameras to the city of Chongqing, a project larger than New York City both in terms of area and citizens under the lens.

We're not talking about a way to offload unsold Flip video cameras, either. The so-called Peaceful Chongqing surveillance project will require "networking equipment that is essential to operating large and complicated surveillance systems," according to The Wall Street Journal. Our government forbids selling customized technologies to China with singular crime-control functions, but camera networks could get around that embargo if they're used to monitor, say, traffic patterns.

It's easy enough to reach the knee-jerk conclusion that Cisco is being evil now -- particularly if you're already skeptical of the company and its suddenly short-sighted management. HP disagrees, though. "We take them at their word as to the usage," says executive VP Todd Bradley. "It's not my job to really understand what they're going to use it for. Our job is to respond to the bid that they've made." And the systems involved haven't been customized to track political unrest or troublesome citizens.

That's still a far cry from thumbing your nose at Beijing and working around its censorship policies, as Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) did last year. Then again, Cisco is trying to make up for some other boneheaded moves, such as stepping on the toes of former reseller partners HP and IBM (NYSE: IBM) in a quest for network-to-server dominance of the data center. I guess any excuse for bonus sales is a good excuse under these circumstances.

Cisco is no stranger to infrastructure projects in fast-growing markets, but this one makes the company look needlessly greedy. A PR disaster is about the last thing Cisco needs right now.

Is Cisco doing the right thing, or getting dirty for no reason? Discuss in the comments below.

Editors Note: A previous version of this article mistakenly identified Todd Bradley as a Cisco employee. It has been corrected.

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