U.S. Congress asks Yahoo execs to testify in China case

A U.S. Congress committee has asked Yahoo's CEO and chief counsel to explain previous statements regarding activities in China.

The U.S. Congress asked Yahoo to explain alleged false statements the company's attorney gave in testimony last year.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee said that Michael Callahan, Yahoo's senior vice president and general counsel, testified last year that Yahoo didn't know why the Chinese government asked the company for personal information about Shi Tao, a pro-democracy advocate. China has since imprisoned Shi for 10 years.

The House committee is asking both Callahan and Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang to appear at a hearing November 6 to explain how it gave the alleged false information during the earlier testimony. In a statement, Committee Chairman Tom Lantos said Congress wants to hold the company accountable for its actions and examine the steps Yahoo has taken to protect the privacy rights of users in China.

Despite Callahan's testimony, the committee said that Yahoo had in its possession a Chinese government document that left little doubt as to that government's intentions.

Shi was arrested after posting information about a government crackdown on an overseas Web site using a pseudonym. Beijing police tracked him down based on the information Yahoo provided them with, the committee said.

In July, the San Francisco Dui Hua Foundation released evidence that the Chinese police wrote to Yahoo, saying that they sought evidence that Shi illegally provided state secrets to foreign entities. The House committee said it is a charge China frequently uses against political dissidents.

Yahoo called the committee's actions "grossly unfair" and said that the committee mischaracterized the nature and intent of Yahoo's past testimony.

"As the Committee well knows from repeated meetings and conversations, Yahoo representatives were truthful with the Committee. This issue revolves around a genuine disagreement with the Committee over the information provided," Yahoo said in a statement.

All businesses working in China are challenged with the difficult balance of free expression in a country that restricts access to information, Yahoo said. Still, Yahoo is working with other companies and the human rights community to create a global code of conduct for operating in such countries, the company said.

Yahoo is trying to have a lawsuit against it related to the Shi case dismissed. The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for Northern California, charges Yahoo with violating U.S. and international law by providing information to the Chinese government that led to the arrest of Shi and others.

Yahoo's China unit is now owned and operated by Alibaba.com, following a US$1 billion investment in that company and the injection of the China unit in 2005. The case in question occurred while the China operation was still a Yahoo subsidiary.

Yahoo isn't the only Internet giant to come under fire for activities in China, although its involvement with the Shi case is one of the most high profile. Google, for example, has also been criticized for launching a search site in China that offers up censored results.

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Nancy Gohring

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