Yahoo apologizes about China, Shi Tao case

Financial Times is reporting that Yahoo! in the United States has finally admitted it was not forthcoming in the case of handing over information that got journalist Shi Tao jailed in China.

When Yahoo executive Michale Callahan testified in front of Congress, February 15, 2006, he said that “we” (Yahoo as a collective entity it seems) did not know the nature of the investigation:

The Shi Tao case raises profound and troubling questions about basic human rights. Nevertheless, it is important to lay out the facts. When Yahoo! China in Beijing was required to provide information about the user, who we later learned was Shi Tao, we had no information about the nature of the investigation. Indeed, we were unaware of the particular facts surrounding the case until the news story emerged. [link]

Now Callahan admits Yahoo “had additional information.”

A top Yahoo official who has come under fire for the company’s role in the 2004 imprisonment of a dissident in China apologised on Thursday for failing to tell US lawmakers that Yahoo knew more about the case than he initially acknowledged in testimony last year.

Michael Callahan, Yahoo’s executive vice president and general counsel, said in a statement ahead of a congressional hearing next week that he “realised” that Yahoo had additional information about the nature of the probe into one of its users, Shi Tao, a journalist now serving a 10-year prison sentence in China, months after he testified that Yahoo had “no information” about the investigation.

Apparently, they are putting the blame on a communication breakdown between the US office and China operations.

“Months after I testified before two House subcommittees on Yahoo’s approach to business in China, I realised Yahoo had additional information about a 2004 order issued by the Chinese government seeking information about a Yahoo China user,” Mr Callahan said in the statement. [...]

“I neglected to directly alert the committee of this new information and that oversight led to a misunderstanding that I deeply regret and have apologised to the committee for creating,” Mr Callahan said.

He added that in consultations with committee staff they agreed that his 2006 testimony was “truthful”.

He is expected to testify that a lawyer for Yahoo in Asia failed to brief him on the order because the lawyer did not believe it was significant.

It’s good to see Yahoo finally acknowledge what was so painfully obvious after documents were released that proved their Congressional testimony was erroneous. But there are still questions going forward.

Yahoo could still be vulnerable to future human rights-related cases involving Yahoo China, since Alibaba’s boss, Jack Ma, made no secret of his willingness to co-operate closely with Beijing’s authorities and with any investigations into users.

For some of the best reporting and analysis of this, make sure to read Rebecca MacKinnon’s blog posts from earlier this year, and Roland Soong’s post about the Shi Tao case.

10 thoughts on “Yahoo apologizes about China, Shi Tao case

  1. The thing that bugs me and which seems not to be talked about is that although the demands were made of Yahoo! China in China, the information was held in Hong Kong by Yahoo! Hong Kong. Last I looked we were separate legal jurisdictions. Is this not actually almost akin to asking Yahoo! China for information on US or UK citizens and expecting the given country’s Yahoo! office to come through?

  2. Wait, are journalists above the law? Shi Tao violated China’s security laws on classified information. Such laws exists in US as well.

    And Yahoo didn’t do anything AT&T didn’t do for the US government when criminal investigation demanded survilance.

    Do you want examples?

  3. Phil, to the best of my knowledge what you say is not true. If you have documentation to show otherwise, I’d be interested to see it, but the story so far has been Yahoo! China’s mail servers were indeed inside the PRC, but it was Yahoo Holdings (Hong Kong) that was the actual holding ocmpany of the China-based operations and they were the ones named on the order.

    Charles, as you said, and ESWN has pointed out, you can criticize Yahoo for many things including whther or not they should operate servers with personal information at all inside PRC, but in the end, if they choose to do so they have to obey the sovereign laws of the country. Just like the telcos in the US are under scrutiny for handing over private data to the Feds, and are being considered for retroactive immunity.

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