Chinese Law Prof Blog

Editor: Donald C. Clarke
George Washington University Law School

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Yahoo really in the soup now?

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 [email protected], 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:

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.

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