Newest Yahoo Mail Feature: BCC Beijing
It is more important for us to participate, not only for economic reasons, but to be able to [help shape where the industry is going]. You have to balance the risk of not participating. And people don’t realize that being in the market every day there, and being on the ground, we are seeing changes, on the whole, for the positive.”
–-Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang on China, March 2006
Sure, Yahoo signed China’s “Public Pledge on Self-Discipline for the Chinese Internet Industry,” a voluntary agreement to monitor and restrict information deemed “harmful” by Beijing, but did it have to take it quite so seriously? Was it really necessary to divulge the identity of a Chinese journalist who was subsequently arrested and sent to prison for a decade? Can’t Yahoo do business in China without helping its government jail political dissidents (three at last count)?
We may never get a staight answer to those questions, but at least they’re being asked. The House Foreign Affairs Committee has ordered an investigation into Yahoo’s role in the prosecution of Shi Tao, a journalist and Yahoo Mail user, who was arrested in 2004 by Chinese officials after Yahoo cooperated with their request for information. The committee’s interest in the matter was sparked by new documents that suggest Yahoo gave information to Chinese authorities knowing that it could lead to the reporter’s arrest. An interesting revelation, as Yahoo has long maintained it had no information about the nature of the investigation.
“This new documentation suggests that Yahoo’s Beijing office was at least aware of the general nature of the crime being investigated in the Shi Tao case even if it was unaware of the specific circumstances or the name of the individual involved,” said Joshua Rosenzweig of the Dui Hua Foundation, a human-rights organization. “One does not have to be an expert in Chinese law to know that ‘state secrets’ charges have often been used to punish political dissent in China. We must remember that before Shi Tao there were three other Chinese dissidents about whom Chinese police obtained user information from Yahoo in Beijing. If we assume that law-enforcement agencies investigating these cases followed the same procedures to obtain that information, three other notices would have been provided specifying investigations into subversion or incitement–crimes of a more unambiguous political nature.”
A scathing indictment and one that may mean Yahoo is finally called to answer for its conduct in China. “It is bad enough that a wealthy American company would willingly supply Chinese police the means to hunt a man down for shedding light on repression in China,” said Tom Lantos, the Democratic chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “Covering up such a despicable practice when Congress seeks an explanation is a serious offense. For a firm engaged in the information industry, Yahoo sure has a lot of secrecy to answer for. We expect to learn the truth, and to hold the company to account.”