(by Patrick Goodenough, CNSNews.com) – As U.S. lawmakers prepare to question American Internet companies about their willingness to comply with restrictive policies in China, Yahoo is facing more allegations about its role in the jailing of Chinese dissidents.

The latest case has heightened concerns about the lengths to which Western companies are prepared to go to do business in the communist nation’s lucrative market, the world’s second-largest.

The companies argue that their presence in China is helping to open up the country to information; but critics, unconvinced, say they would do better to formulate and operate under a common code of practice that includes a refusal to agree to censorship.

Yahoo admitted last year that it provided personal user information to Chinese authorities about journalist Shi Tao, who was subsequently jailed for 10 years for using a private Yahoo email account to send information to a U.S.-based Chinese website. The firm said it was merely complying with local laws.

Now Yahoo is again under fire, after researchers dug up information about the jailing in late 2003 of a former civil servant, Li Zhi, sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment for “inciting subversion.”

The Chinese-language, U.S.-based news site Boxun said Li, a Yahoo customer, was arrested after he used to Internet to criticize corruption among local officials.

According to Li’s lawyer the charges were brought against his client on the basis of data provided to the authorities by Yahoo Hong Kong.

In Shi Tao’s case, it was also Yahoo Hong Kong which handed over the information.

A translation of the official trial record said Shi was tracked down with the help of “account holder information furnished by Yahoo Holdings (Hong Kong),” which confirmed the IP address of Shi’s computer and the phone number he used to connect to the Internet.

Press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Frontiers said it had suspected that the Shi case was not unique, and the emergence now of the earlier one showed that “Yahoo works regularly and efficiently with the Chinese police.”

The Paris-based body knows of 49 “cyber dissidents” and 32 journalists in prison in China for using the Internet to criticize the authorities.

The group’s Internet specialist, Julien Pain, urged Yahoo to provide a list of all those it had provided information on, beginning with the 81 individuals Reporters Without Frontiers is campaigning for.

Yahoo’s response to queries at the time the Shi Tao case emerged was to issue a brief statement saying: “Just like any other global company, Yahoo must ensure that its local country sites must operate within the laws, regulations and customs of the country in which they are based.”

Late last month Google was in the spotlight when it confirmed that its China-based Internet search engine would censor search results, “in response to local law.”

Google conceded that removing sensitive information was not consistent with its mission, but said providing no information at all was even less so.

Microsoft has also admitted cooperating with censorship requirements in China, blocking the use of sensitive terms like “Taiwan independence” and “democracy” on its MSN weblog software.

U.S. computer networking company Cisco Systems’ routing equipment is reportedly used by Chinese officials to spy on their citizens online.

The controversies have prompted a human rights subcommittee of the House International Relations Committee to schedule hearings on Wednesday.

Representatives from Yahoo, Google, Microsoft and Cisco have been invited to testify, along with administration officials, media figures and press freedom campaigners.

Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who will chair the hearings, said in a statement that by complying with Chinese censorship demands, U.S. Internet companies were “in essence becoming a megaphone for communist propaganda and a tool for controlling public opinion.”

Reprinted here with permission from Cybercast News Service. Visit the website at CNSNews.com.


1.  Define dissident.  Define cyber dissident.

2.  How is Yahoo responsible for the jailing of Chinese dissidents?  Be specific.

3.  How does Yahoo defend itself against criticism over its responsibility for the jailing of dissidents in China?

4.  What is Reporters Without Frontiers?  What has this organizatgion concluded about Yahoo?

5.  What is Cisco System?  How does it work with Chinese officials?

6.  To be able to operate in China, Google (and Microsoft’s MSN) have agreed to censor search results.  Do you agree with Google’s rationalization of its policy of supressing information in China (para. 15)?  Explain your answer.

7.  What responsibility do American Internet companies have to provide access to information worldwide?  How should Americans react to Yahoo’s role in jailing Chinese who express their opinions?  Should the reaction be similar for Google, MSN and Cisco?


To follow the House of Representatives’ “House International Relations Committee” subcommittee hearings on the Internet in China, click here.

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