Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Yesterday I blogged here about new documents that have come to light in the Yahoo/Shi Tao case. These documents, if genuine, seem inconsistent with the congressional testimony of Yahoo's general counsel in February 2006. Now the House Committee on Foreign Affairs (CFA) is investigating. According to the Committee's August 3rd press release, the Committee is concerned that whereas Yahoo stated that when the request for information about Shi Tao was made it "had no information concerning the nature of the investigation," the documents show that the search warrant stated clearly that Shi was under investigation for leaking state secrets.
According to an Aug. 7th report in the Financial Times, a Yahoo spokesman has responded that "the description of the investigation was too vague to give the internet company any clue about its real nature, and that the disclosure of the document therefore supported [general counsel] Mr Callahan's statement before the House committee last year." (I'm quoting the FT, not Yahoo.)
Once again, it seems, the complex structure of Yahoo's East Asian operations is confusing people and diverting attention from an important issue. Forget about the debatable issue of how much information the search warrant really provided. What the CFA's press release does not notice, and what the Yahoo spokesman does not deny, is that the documents (again, if genuine) appear to refute conclusively Yahoo's explicit contention, made elsewhere in general counsel Callahan's testimony, that the Yahoo entity named Yahoo Holdings (Hong Kong), Ltd. (Yahoo HK) had nothing to do with any of this, and that the information demand was made to (and the information supplied by) Yahoo's Chinese-incorporated entity. The documents show that the demands were addressed in one case to Yahoo HK's Beijing representative office, and in another case simply to Yahoo HK generally. They also show that in at least one case, information was supplied by Yahoo HK (or at least the document has a Yahoo HK stamp on it).
This is more than just a technical issue. If Yahoo HK released the information, it may have violated Hong Kong privacy laws. And as I argued in my post yesterday, Yahoo HK is really in no different position vis-a-vis the PRC authorities than the US parent, where many people (including me) have e-mail accounts.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
The request was announced in a USTR press release dated Aug. 13, 2007. This means that the required consultations did not produce a solution and that the US has now taken the next step.
Here's the full text:
I previously blogged here and elsewhere about the case of Shi Tao, the Yahoo subscriber whose account information was turned over to the Chinese authorities by a Yahoo-affiliated entity (exactly which one is still apparently disputed), resulting in his prosecution and imprisonment. In April, Shi and others filed suit against Yahoo! Inc. and Yahoo! Holdings (Hong Kong), Ltd. ("Yahoo (HK)"). This (and the passage of time) has resulted in the coming to light of interesting evidence.
In particular, the role of Yahoo (HK) now seems undeniable. The original PRC court judgment stated that the information regarding Shi Tao had been supplied by Yahoo (HK) - i.e., not by the Chinese-incorporated Yahoo entity, which I shall call Yahoo China. But in Feb. 2006 testimony before Congress, Yahoo! Inc.'s general counsel Michael Callahan categorically denied Yahoo (HK)'s involvement:
Let me take this opportunity to correct inaccurate reports that Yahoo! Hong Kong gave information to the Chinese government. This is absolutely untrue. Yahoo! Hong Kong was not involved in any disclosure of information about Mr. Shi to the Chinese government. In this case, the Chinese government ordered Yahoo! China to provide user information, and Yahoo! China complied with Chinese law. To be clear - Yahoo! China and Yahoo! Hong Kong have always operated independently of one another. There was not then, nor is there today, any exchange of user information between Yahoo! Hong Kong and Yahoo! China.
Mr. Callahan also stated, "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."
So was the PRC court judgment just wrong when it said the information came from Yahoo (HK)? The Dui Hua Foundation has now posted some interesting documents on its web site. Among them is a copy of search warrant (literally, "evidence collection notice"; I'm just roughly translating here) dated April 2004 provided by the Beijing Municipal State Security Bureau demanding "Email account registration information for firstname.lastname@example.org, all login times, corresponding IP addresses, and relevant email content from February 22, 2004 to present." The addressee? Not Yahoo China, but Yahoo (HK)'s Beijing representative office. Moreover, the warrant clearly states that the search was for evidence of suspected unlawful provision of state secrets to a foreign entity.
Here are some more relevant documents:
- Dui Hua web site post discussing the search warrant (July 25, 2007)
- Dui Hua web site post discussing additional evidence of Yahoo's role in Chinese internet cases (July 30, 2007)
- April 2002 "evidence collection notice" addressed to Yahoo (HK) in the Wang Xiaoning case
- Yahoo (HK)'s August 2002 response providing evidence in response to another request in the Wang Xiaoning case
The evidence of Yahoo (HK)'s involvement seems pretty conclusive, assuming of course that these documents are authentic. If it was Yahoo (HK) that provided the information, then while one can understand that it may have been under pressure, its position is really no different relative to the PRC from Yahoo! Inc., the US parent. Does the US parent propose to hand over information on its users to the security authorities of any country that puts pressure on its operations or employees in that country? Yahoo! Inc. has not to my knowledge ever clearly answered this question.
Thanks to the Dui Hua Foundation for providing these documents.
Sunday, August 12, 2007
For those interested in - you guessed it - Chinese financial markets, I highly recommend Michael Pettis's blog, China Financial Markets. Pettis is a former New York-based investment banker and adjunct professor at Columbia who now teaches full time at Beijing University's Guanghua School of Management. The blog also comments frequently on issues in US-China financial relations such as the valuation of the Renminbi and the bilateral trade balance. I think it's an excellent antidote to much of the complete nonsense that passes for common knowledge in both Beijing and Washington. See, for example, the series of posts entitled "Good for the US, Less Good for China."