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How Yahoo assist Government Censorship in China(6)

Posted by Author on August 24, 2006

(Cont’d) With data housed on servers in the PRC and managed by Yahoo! China employees, who are largely Chinese nationals, Yahoo! claims that it had no choice but to hand over the information: “When we receive a demand from law enforcement authorized under the law of the country in which we operate, we must comply,” said Yahoo!’s Michael Callahan.66 Callahan and other Yahoo! executives have also argued that, as with criminal cases in any country, Yahoo! employees generally have no information about the nature of the case and would not be in a position to know whether the user data requested relates to a political or ordinary criminal case.67 “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,” Callahan said. “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.” These points were reiterated in the August 1, 2006 letter from Yahoo! to Human Rights Watch:

“When we had operational control of Yahoo! China, we took steps to make clear our Beijing operation would comply with disclosure demands only if they came through authorized law enforcement officers, in writing, on official law enforcement letterhead, with the official agency seal, and established the legal validity of the demand. Yahoo! China only provided information as legally required and construed demands as narrowly as possible. Information demands that did not comply with this process were refused. To our knowledge, there is no process for appealing a proper demand in China. Throughout Yahoo!’s operations globally, we employ rigorous procedural protections under applicable laws in response to govemment requests for information.”

For this reason, Human Rights Watch believes that it is likely impossible for an Internet company to avoid intentionally, negligently, or unknowingly participating in political repression when its user data is housed on computer servers physically located within the legal jurisdiction of the People’s Republic of China. Thus the first step towards human rights-compliant corporate conduct in China is to store user data outside of the PRC (or for that matter, outside any country with a clear and well-documented track record of prosecuting internationally protected speech as a criminal act).
Yahoo filter hrw.orgFigure 5: Yahoo! China search showing hrw.org de-list: “no web page matching site: hrw.org could be found,” and the disclaimer message: “according to relevant laws and regulations, a portion of results may not appear.”

(to be cont’d…)

– From IV. How Multinational Internet Companies assist Government Censorship in China,
of “Race to the Bottom: Corporate Complicity in Chinese Internet Censorship,” by Human Rights Watch

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