Yahoo! hits back over NUJ boycott move

Internet giant claims that it was legally obliged to comply with Chinese authorities

Internet company Yahoo! has responded to a boycott from the NUJ about its alleged collusion with the Chinese authorites by saying that it must comply with local laws in the countries where it operates.

The 40,000-strong union this week urged its members to boycott all Yahoo!

products. And in a letter to Yahoo! it gave several examples of the company giving information to the Chinese government which helped it jail journalists and pro-democracy writers.

It says Yahoo! was complicit in the arrest of Shi Tao, who was imprisoned for 10 years after forwarding a government email to the foreign press.

It also states that Jiang Lijun was sentenced to four years in November 2003 after writing articles which branded the Chinese government autocratic. The NUJ said he was jailed “after Yahoo!

provided information that helped identify him”.

A third example cited by the NUJ is that of Li Zhi, who was sentenced to eight years for discussing pro-democracy issues in a web forum and for emailing pro-democracy campaigners.

The letter states: “The Chinese government has an atrocious record of censorship and free expression, and it is essential that the rest of the world publicly objects to and campaigns against this repressive regime.

“The NUJ regards Yahoo!’s actions as a completely unacceptable endorsement of the Chinese authorities. As a result, the NUJ will be cancelling all Yahoo!-operated services and advising all members to boycott Yahoo! until the company changes its irresponsible and unethical policy.” Yahoo! has responded with a statement which said: “The facts of the Shi Tao case are distressing to our company, our employees, and our leadership. We condemn punishment of any activity internationally recognised as free

expression, whether that punishment takes place in China or anywhere else in the world. We have made our views clearly known to the Chinese government.” It claimed it had no idea about the nature of the investigation when asked to provide information about the user, later identified as Shi Tao.

It said: “Law enforcement agencies in China, the United States and elsewhere typically do not explain to information technology companies or other businesses why they demand specific information regarding certain individuals.

“In many cases, Yahoo! does not know the real identity of individuals for whom governments request information, as very often our users subscribe to our services without using their real names.

“At the time the demand was made for information in this case, Yahoo!

China was legally obligated to comply with the requirements of Chinese law enforcement.

“When we receive a demand from law enforcement authorised under the

law of the country in which we operate, we must comply. This is a real example of why this issue is bigger than any one company and any one industry. All companies must respond in the same way. When a foreign telecommunications company operating in the United States receives an order from US law enforcement, it must comply. Failure to comply in China could have subjected Yahoo! China and its employees to criminal charges, including imprisonment.

Ultimately, US companies in China face a choice: comply with Chinese law or leave.” It adds: “We balance the requirement to comply with laws that are not necessarily consistent with our own values against our strong belief that active involvement in China contributes to the continued modernisation of the country — as well as being a benefit to Chinese citizens — through the advancement of communications, commerce and access to information.

“We believe that the internet is a positive force in China and a growing Chinese middle class is benefiting greatly from more education, communication and technology.”

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