Yahoo Had to Open Email of Journalist to China
Yahoo caught some flack this week from the International press community and Reporters Without Frontiers for giving the Chinese authorities the name and email information of Shi Tao, a Chinese journalist who illegally distributed Top Secret memos to foreign news sources using a Yahoo email address. The act was seen by many Western “China bashers” as Yahoo working with the Chinese government to censor its citizens. Yet, on the contrary, Yahoo was forced by the Chinese government to hand over the information on the email address Shi Tao used to break Chinese law.
To simplify the matter; Yahoo is a US company, Yahoo Holdings is based in Hong Kong, which is part of China, Chinese law is different from US law. Hong Kong enjoys some of its own legal freedoms, which were initiated during the handover of Hong Kong to China by the British. However, the servers for the Chinese Yahoo address that Shi Tao was using are in Mainland China, not Hong Kong.
Yahoo’s co-founder Jerry Yang told the AP yesterday that “Yahoo had to comply with a demand by Chinese authorities to provide information about a personal e-mail of a journalist who was later convicted under state secrecy laws and sentenced to 10 years in prison. The demand for the information was a “legal order” and Yahoo gets such requests from law enforcement agencies all the time, and not just in China, Yang told the forum.” Yang added, “I cannot talk about the details of this case.”
Shi Tao was convicted to 10 years for leaking government information to the external media. Tao sent foreign websites copies of a message Chinese authorities sent to his newspaper which warned of the “dangers of social destabilisation and risks resulting from the return of certain dissidents on the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.”
The message was top secret and not meant to be shared with anyone outside of the Dangdai Shang Bao (Contemporary Business News) paper. Shi admits to sending out the email, but argued that the message was not “top secret.”
Reporters Without Borders reports “Yahoo Holdings (Hong Kong) Ltd. provided the Chinese investigation with detailed information that apparently enabled them to link Shi’s personal e-mail account (firstname.lastname@example.org) and the specific message containing information treated as a “state secret” to the IP address of his computer.
Yahoo ! Holdings (Hong Kong) is subject to Hong Kong legislation, which does not spell out the responsibilities in this kind of situation of companies that provide e-mail services. Nonetheless, it is reportedly customary for e-mail service and Internet access providers to transmit information to the police about their clients when shown a court order.
Tests carried out by Reporters Without Borders seem to indicate that the servers used for the Yahoo.com.cn e-mail service, from which the information about Shi was extracted, are located on the Chinese mainland.”