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Yahoo! defends China user data handover at US House hearing

[JURIST] Yahoo! Inc. [corporate website] Chief Executive Jerry Yang and General Counsel Michael Callahan [written testimonies, PDF] Tuesday defended Yahoo's behavior in providing information to the Chinese government at a hearing [HCFA materials; JURIST report] before the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs [official website], saying that the company could not ask local employees in China to refuse to comply with lawful government demands even if Yahoo! disagreed with the Chinese action. The information mostly concerned reporter Shi Tao [JURIST report], who has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for divulging state secrets abroad. Callahan apologized [JURIST report] Friday to members of the Committee for failing to clarify his prior testimony before the Committee regarding Yahoo's involvement in providing information to the Chinese government about Shi. Callahan testified [statement, PDF] during a February 2006 hearing that Yahoo's subsidiary in China provided the Chinese government information about Shi without knowing why the information was requested, but later that year discovered that the information was requested as part of a Chinese investigation into state secrets.

Committee Chairman Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA) criticized [statement] Callahan and Yahoo! for providing false information to the Committee in February 2006 and for failing to subsequently correct the misinformation:

Yahoo! claims that this is just one big misunderstanding, that Yahoo's false testimony was really just a matter of an internal miscommunication. Let me be clear – this was no misunderstanding. This was inexcusably negligent behavior at best, and deliberately deceptive behavior at worst. I wish to repeat this: This was inexcusably negligent behavior at best, and deliberately deceptive behavior at worst. In preparing for testimony before this Committee, Yahoo! did not see fit to hire a translator to make sure the document upon which it relied for its entire defense was translated properly. Mr. Callahan never asked to see the document. And the Yahoo! lawyer who had it – by Yahoo!'s own explanation – failed to consider the document "significant," even after Congress ordered Yahoo! to appear to answer directly on this outrage, which landed an innocent Chinese journalist in prison for a decade. Yahoo's own lawyers in Beijing also had the document, and knew full well its meaning. Either Yahoo! has little regard for providing full and complete information to a duly constituted committee of the Congress, or it has little regard for the issue of protecting human rights.
Shi was a reporter for the Contemporary Business News in China who also urged political reform. In April 2004, he used his Yahoo! e-mail account to send a message to a pro-democracy website in the US. After requesting and receiving personal information about Shi from Yahoo!, the Chinese government charged him with providing state secrets to a foreign entity. He was convicted in April 2005 and sentenced to 10 years in prison. AP has more.

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