New developments in the furor over how Yahoo! helped convict a dissident Chinese journalist:
ESWN (scroll down to bottom) and Angry Chinese Blogger have both posted translations of the summary of an internal Chinese Communist Party Propaganda Department circular, e-mailed by Chinese journalist Shi Tao to a foreign website via his Yahoo! China email account. (Click here for the PDF of the full verdict text in both Chinese and English.) A lively discussion is going on in the comments section of my last post about Yahoo!'s role in Shi Tao's conviction.
According to Shi Tao's summary, the Propaganda Dept. circular includes the following instruction to Chinese editors and reporters: "pay attention to any liaison between overseas democratic elements and individual media editors and reporters inside China. If anything is discovered, it is must be reported immediately"
For transmitting this, plus a very general list of measures the government was taking to crack down on dissident speech and prevent unrest, Shi Tao got 10 years in jail.
In an email to Reuters, a Yahoo! spokesperson wrote: "Just like any other global company, Yahoo! must ensure that its local country sites must operate within the laws, regulations and customs of the country in which they are based."
In Shi Tao's case, Yahoo! had to be evil in order to be legal.
But as the discussion on my last post reveals, Yahoo! had a choice. It chose to provide an e-mail service hosted on servers based inside China, making itself subject to Chinese legal jurisdiction. It didn't have to do that. It could have provided a service hosted offshore only. If Shi Tao's email account had been hosted on servers outside of China, Yahoo! wouldn't have been legally obligated to hand over his information.
When providing information and communications services in countries where political dissent is illegal, companies like Yahoo! need to ask themselves tough questions about whether they can realistically operate "within the laws, regulations and customs of the country in which they are based" while still upholding their ethical values. Assuming they have some. Even if they don't, they must recognize that helping put dissidents in jail is pretty bad for the corporate image. Is the damage to Yahoo!'s reputation, credibility, and consumer trust really worth whatever money they're making on that Chinese-language e-mail service?
I don't think so.