Chinese Law Prof Blog

Editor: Donald C. Clarke
George Washington University Law School

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

More on Yahoo: House Foreign Affairs Committee investigates Yahoo's 2006 testimony

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.

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