Yahoo On Defensive For Revealing Chinese Dissident Identities

Yahoo was on the defensive Tuesday, as a Congressional committee revisited the company's decision to reveal the identities of political dissidents to the Chinese government.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos accused Yahoo general counsel Michael Callahan of providing false information to Congress last year, when he testified that Yahoo didn't know in 2004 why the Chinese government sought information about journalist Shi Tao.

Lantos charged Tuesday that Yahoo personnel knew all along that the Chinese authorities were investigating a violation of the country's "state secrets" law.

"[W]hile Mr. Callahan may not have known the relevant facts personally, other Yahoo employees, in fact, did know the nature of the Chinese investigation against Shi Tao prior to our committee hearing," Lantos said. "Specifically, the document provided to Yahoo China on April 22, 2004 by the Beijing State Security Bureau stated: 'Your office is in possession of the following items relating to a case of suspected illegal provision of state secrets to foreign entities.'"

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But Callahan said that the "state secrets" language didn't necessarily give the company detailed information about the situation.

"I believe that while my testimony could have been more precise, the fundamental point of my testimony remains unchanged--we did not know that the case related to a journalist, dissident activity, or that it was a political case when Yahoo China was required to provide the demanded information."

In 2004, Shi Tao used what he thought was an anonymous account from Yahoo to send a message to an overseas organization stating that the Chinese government had warned his newspaper against covering the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown. The Chinese authorities obtained his identity from Yahoo and he was subsequently sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang testified that the company believes it can help improve conditions in China, despite what he called the "challenges in the areas of free expression and privacy."

"We know the presence of technology companies like Yahoo in markets abroad can have a transformative effect on people's lives and on local and national economies. Access to information has and will continue to change what people know about the world around them," he testified.

Yahoo currently faces a lawsuit in federal court in California by Shi Tao and his mother, as well as another Chinese dissident, Wang Xiaoning, and his wife. Wang Xiaoning also was sentenced to 10 years in prison for posting a message calling for political reform to a Yahoo Group.

Yang also told Congress that Yahoo sold its China subsidiary to Alibaba in 2005. Yahoo has a 40% stake in Alibaba and Yang has one of four seats of that company's board.

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