Yahoo exec regrets testimony in China human rights case

A Yahoo executive apologized for providing confusing testimony to a congressional committee about the company's role in the jailing of Shi Tao, a Chinese journalist.

Yahoo's General Counsel, Michael Callahan, told the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs that he was sorry that his testimony last year caused confusion about what Yahoo knew and didn't know about the Shi Tao case.

Shi, a reporter and editor at a Chinese newspaper, was arrested in his home after posting material about a government crackdown on media and democracy activists on Democracy Forum, an overseas Web site. He posted the information using a pseudonym.

Chinese authorities asked Yahoo to hand over information about Shi's e-mail account, including his IP address, log-on history and the contents of his e-mail over several weeks, which the company did. Using that information, Beijing police were able to track him down and arrest him at his home.

Committee Chairman Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), however, accused Callahan of not telling the truth to the committee regarding what the company knew about the case and when it knew it.

Callahan, however, said it was a misunderstanding.

"This confusion, and my statements at the [February] 2006 hearing, stem from a lack of information on my part, which I sincerely regret," Callahan said Tuesday in a prepared statement (PDF format). "At the time of my testimony in 2006, it was my understanding that the Shi Tao demand contained no information regarding the specific details of the investigation ... and that is how I testified."

Callahan said he now knows that Yahoo had additional information that the Shi investigation was related to disclosure of state secrets. Callahan also apologized that he didn't let the committee know about this additional information when he found out about it in October 2006.

"There remains a disagreement over whether the reference to "state secrets" was significant enough to tell Yahoo anything material about the case," Callahan said. "I believe that while my testimony could have been more precise, the fundamental point of my testimony remains unchanged -- we did not know that the case related to a journalist, dissident activity, or that it was a political case when Yahoo China was required to provide the demanded information [to the Chinese government]."

Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang also testified that Yahoo had been "open and forthcoming" with the committee about the part it played in a human rights case in China that led to Shi's 10-year imprisonment.

"We have answered every question, provided every requested piece of information and worked with you in good faith," Yang said in a prepared statement (PDF format) before the committee.

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Linda Rosencrance

Computerworld
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