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Congressman Investigating Yahoo’s China Claims

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The revelation of a Beijing State Security document issued to Yahoo for information on journalist Shi Tao contradicted testimony by a Yahoo executive; a California Congressman wants Yahoo to clarify the disparity.

Congressman Investigating Yahoo's China Claims
Congressman Investigating Yahoo’s China Claims

After Reporters Without Borders (RSF) revealed a translated police document about the investigation of Shi, Yahoo denied its executive, Michael Callahan, lied to Congress about how much Yahoo knew about Beijing’s aims.

The translation by Dui Hua quickly circulated beyond the RSF. It has not been dismissed as a mistranslation or a fake.

The document puts Yahoo in a bad light, making its protestations of not knowing why Beijing wanted information about Shi’s Yahoo Mail account ring hollow.

With some of those denials coming from Callahan in a February 2006 appearance before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Tom Lantos , the Committee’s chair, wants Yahoo to explain the discrepancy. From an AP report:

“For a firm engaged in the information industry, Yahoo sure has a lot of secrecy to answer for,” said Lantos, a Democrat. “We expect to learn the truth and to hold the company to account.”

Lantos said that “covering up such a despicable practice when Congress seeks an explanation is a serious offense.”

Jim Cullinan, a Yahoo spokesman, expressed disappointment that Lantos “is rushing to judgment on this issue, because the facts will support Yahoo’s testimony to Congress.”

Here is what Callahan told Congress as part of his February 2006 testimony:

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.

Here’s what the memo from Beijing State Security Bureau said on April 22, 2004:

Beijing Representative Office, Yahoo! (HK) Holdings Ltd.:
According to investigation, your office is in possession of the following items relating to a case of suspecting illegal provision of state secrets to foreign entities that is currently under investigation by our bureau. In accordance with Article 45 of the Criminal Procedure Law of the PRC, [these items] may be collected. The items for collection are:

Email account registration information for huoyan1989@yahoo.com.cn, all login times, corresponding IP addresses, and relevant email content from February 22, 2004 to present.

As we noted in our previous article, Callahan’s position hinges on whether or not Yahoo China and Yahoo Hong Kong shared this memo. That would mean Yahoo China received a separate request, per Callahan’s testimony, for information on Shi.

It looks like Callahan will have to bring a copy of that separate request to Lantos and the Foreign Affairs Committee, and say they didn’t know the local security apparatus also dropped by the HK Holdings office with one as well.

Congressman Investigating Yahoo’s China Claims
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