Yahoo settles out of court

(By Raj)

Yahoo settles its China lawsuit

Yahoo has agreed to settle a lawsuit brought against it on behalf of several Chinese dissidents, according to papers filed in a California court. No details have been given of the settlement but Yahoo will be covering legal costs.

The case alleged that Yahoo had provided information to the Chinese government that had then been used to prosecute the dissidents. Yahoo said it had to comply with Chinese laws to operate in the country. A statement released by the World Organization for Human Rights USA, which brought the case, said Yahoo had decided to settle the case following criticism at a US Congressional hearing on 6 November.

It’s clear that Yahoo’s weak excuse that it had to comply with whatever mysterious Chinese law was thrown at it, otherwise known as “some official told me to do X”, wouldn’t hold water in any reasonable court.

Did Yahoo even consider challenging whichever organisation filed the request for the information? Argue it didn’t have to give it under the Chinese Constitution? Demand a formal request from the relevant minister, or whatever? No, of course not. Can’t rock the boat. No obligation to the customers at all. China’s a place without law or due-process, so Yahoo’s blameless.

(Out of curiosity, did Yahoo even say what law they had to comply with? Or was it really a case of “I was told to do X by someone in authority, so I did it without question”?)

Michael Callahan, Yahoo’s executive vice-president and general counsel, then told a congressional panel in February 2006 that he did not know why the Chinese authorities wanted to trace Shi Tao.

At best Callahan made the Chinese wing of his company look like it’s run by a bunch of morons.

Guys, it’s called join the dots. What possible reason could there have been other than to throw him in jail – to give him a prize?! Anyone with a modicum of understanding of China would have known what they wanted to do with that poor guy. The Chinese government focuses its internet attention on finding out who potential “troublemakers” are so that it can silence them. It’s as simple as that.

If was in charge of HR at Yahoo I’d create a new opening to ensure this problem doesn’t occur again.

Job Description
Yahoo seeks advisor to help run its affairs in the People’s Republic of China. Applicants must demonstrate they do not have their head crammed up their backsides and are capable of rationally processing information brought to their attention.

Anyone up for it?

Yes, the only possible answer is that Yahoo (China) – or whoever they are – really don’t know what they’re doing. That, or Mr Callahan lied to Congress. You decide which it was.

The Discussion: 9 Comments

Poor Yahoo, a typical case of business failure in China, now becomes a convenient scapegoat.

November 14, 2007 @ 1:04 pm | Comment

You know what it was about when you saw Congressman Chris Smith was running the show and Harry Wu was sitting in the hearing room.

Read this:

November 14, 2007 @ 2:36 pm | Comment

Oh Raj, really! Yahoo operates in China, as in, so far as I know, it has a physical presence and physical operations in China. This was not a case of the PSB demanding information stored on servers in anything other than a Chinese jurisdiction. Yahoo was, and still is, legally obligated to comply with Chinese law.

November 14, 2007 @ 7:56 pm | Comment


1. What law was Yahoo required to give the information under? If that’s its argument then
it must have specified the piece of legislation and the part in question at least once. The excuse “some official told me to do so” is not a defence.

2. Even if it “had” to do what it did, why was anyone there incapable of working out what anyone here could have done – i.e. the people in question were almost certainly going to have nasty things done to them.

3. After finding out what happened, why did Yahoo have to be repeatedly beaten around the head by the media, Congress and general public to give any support to the victims and their families? If they’d put their hands up at the start it would have been ok, but to do what they did and only make a payment at the last possible moment is reprehensible.

November 14, 2007 @ 9:04 pm | Comment


Without trying to excuse Yahoo’s response or behavior, it’s clear from the record that Yahoo’s legal holding company at the time, which was based in Hong Kong, got a legally valid notice from the PSB. Yahoo representatives also have said that their lawyers in the PRC, HK, and US looked carefully at the request, but decided ultimately that they had no recourse but to comply, even though they weren’t happy about having to do so. We can all argue about whether that decision was legally correct, or morally justified, etc., but it’s a lot more complex than “some PSB official told us to do so.”

It’s also important to note that the Yahoo subscriber information was just one piece of evidence that the procurator presented in court against Shi Tao — it was an important piece, but not the only evidence. In other words, Shi Tao was going to jail no matter what — with or without the Yahoo-assisted evidence. That’s an outrage, of course, but we should keep our focus on the outrageous Chinese government behavior, not Yahoo’s.

Please note that I’m not excusing Yahoo’s apparent lie to Congress about how much the PSB told the company told about the reason for the request. And I’m not excusing Yahoo for not doing something to help Shi’s family before basically being embarrassed into it at last week’s hearing.

The San Francisco-based Dui Hua Foundation has a good write up on the whole issue: see Here’s just a bit:

Begin Text:

“The police document, a copy of which recently surfaced on the web site of the US-based Chinese-language web site, is essentially a standardized search warrant making clear that Chinese law enforcement agencies have the legal authority to collect evidence in criminal cases. (The Dui Hua Foundation has produced a full English translation of the document, which it has examined and believes to be authentic.)

Addressed to the Beijing representative office of Yahoo! Holdings (Hong Kong) Ltd., the April 2004 notice specifies that evidence is being sought in a case of suspected Òillegally providing state secrets to foreign entitiesÓ (a state security crime under ChinaÕs criminal code) and requests the account registration, login times and corresponding IP addresses, and email content over a two-month period in early 2004 for a specific Yahoo! email account, Court documents have already revealed that this account information was used as evidence in the trial against Shi.”

End Text.

As a previous comment noted obliquely, there’s more than a bit of hypocrisy in the Congressional ire over this case, so it’s very important, I think, to keep the facts straight and not accuse the company of things it didn’t do. What it DID do, and what it failed to do, was objectionable enough.

November 15, 2007 @ 8:48 am | Comment

Watch out when you talk about being under “Chinese law” China is lawless, the CCP is a mafia and they do what they want, against the universal understanding of justice and against their own constitution, and I’m not talking like how Canada and the US do that, the Communist party and its 70 milliom er whatever members are lawless freaks.

Id someone tells you the law is to rape your brother and then kill yourself, what then? Thats the way you have to look at this as I see it.

What if the CCP says that you should report anyone who practices Falun Gong so that they can be taken away and tortured to death? The CCP is evil and sucks so what kind of total suck would go under them? A big loser thats who.

The CCP IS AGAINST THE LAW, so following them is criminal. Do you know what I’m trying to say?

Actually according to the Chinese constitution, the CCP should be up poop creek, oops or did they change the constitution to say all of the above can be waved if the party wants to be right but is actually wrong, yes I think they might have done that.

November 15, 2007 @ 2:00 pm | Comment

You guys do know that you can get away with anything as long as you do it by the book and according to law. I am pretty sure CCP did this by the book and pretty much give him a crime, put him through court, and put him in jail. It is prefectly legal. Is it justice? Of course, it is not.

I can give you examples. Want to kill a dissenter? Fine! call him/her a terrorist, arrest him/her, make sure you go through the court process, and execute him/her in a fast and speedy process. All you need to do is put the dissenter through the PROCESS. Want to kill millions (genocide) and take their oil while you at it? Fine! First you call them axis of evil, second make up some fake stories about WMD, third have congress passes law to give you the power for the invasion (most international committee called illegal). Yahoo! Someone just comitted genocide and got away with it. However, let say millions of lives are still not enough. You want to kill even more people from the country north of the country you just invaded. Easy. You just repeat 1, 2, and having congree declear the military of that country “terrorists” (wait how did this pass?). Well since they are terrorists that mean no further approval is needed to declear war on them because we already did. I don’t know who learn from who but I think Westerners should know we are as bad if not worse.

Oh, by the way, there is something call US Patriot Act. Yahoo probably have to turn over IP even by US law. And since I am in the west coast, my posting is monitor by AT&T (they are getting sued right now) under the request of our government.

November 15, 2007 @ 4:54 pm | Comment


ZappaFan, thanks for your post.

One thing, though. I may have got my wires crossed, but I’m sure that a US internet company like Yahoo (if not Yahoo itself) refused to give information to a US law enforcement organisation in a similar incident some years ago, complaining the request was illegal, unconstitutional, a breach of privacy, or whatever. It very much pushed the issue, refusing to give in – I’m not sure if it even complied in the end or only did so begrudgingly.

So (assuming this did happen), the question is whether Yahoo attempted to contest the initial request for information from the Chinese authorities, or whether it simply rolled over as soon as it received the fax. As I pointed out, there’s a difference between trying to find ways around a demand for information and complying with it immediately and enthusiastically.

November 16, 2007 @ 12:53 am | Comment

All of the discussion here and everywhere revolves around Yahoo saying they were given a legal mandate to turn over the email information, yet when this story first broke, I believe it was Apple Daily that ran a story saying that Yahoo HK voluntarily handed over emails to the PSB office to curry favor with Beijing for increased market share because they are getting their butt kicked in China vs Baidu and others.

November 17, 2007 @ 6:18 am | Comment

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.