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Warning: Yahoo! won't protect you.

According to Reporters Sans Frontieres (Reporters Without Borders), Information supplied by Yahoo! helped Chinese journalist Shi Tao get 10 years in prison

The text of the verdict in the case of journalist Shi Tao – sentenced in April to 10 years in prison for “divulging state secrets abroad” – shows that Yahoo! Holdings (Hong Kong) Ltd. provided China’s state security authorities with details that helped to identify and convict him. It reveals that the company provided the Chinese investigating organs with detailed information that apparently enabled them to link Shi’s personal e-mail account (on the Chinese Yahoo! service at and the specific message containing information treated as a “state secret” to the IP address of his computer. More details from RSF here.

Shi Tao was jailed because he e-mailed sensitive political information to be posted on dissident websites hosted outside China. His case is a cautionary tale to bloggers around the world: If you are publicizing information and views that your government doesn't want exposed – even if you believe you have the right to do so under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – companies like Yahoo! will not shield you from your government.

Click here for the full text in both Chinese and English of the Shi Tao verdict (PDF document) courtesy of the Dui Hua Foundation, a San Francisco-based non-governmental organization.

  • NYCmoderate

    I clicked-thru from Instapundit, so I don’t know any of this blog’s particular politics, but I have a question meant in all seriousness and not meant to start any kind of partisan flame war. What is the difference, in substance not mechanics, between Yahoo turning this information over to the Chinese government and the US government retrieving similar information in this country either through court order or the PATRIOT act?

    I mean, I think we all agree that the Chinese government is in many ways horrible, but if this company (presumably a local corporate division or subsidiary of Yahoo) is operating in China and the Chinese government orders them to turn it over, what should they do instead?

  • You raise a very good question, NYCmoderate.
    Yahoo!’s long terms of service (almost identical on the Chinese service) says:
    “You acknowledge, consent and agree that Yahoo! may access, preserve, and disclose your account information and Content if required to do so by law or in a good faith belief that such access preservation or disclosure is reasonably necessary to: (a) comply with legal process; (b) enforce the TOS; (c) respond to claims that any Content violates the rights of third-parties; (d) respond to your requests for customer service; or (e) protect the rights, property, or personal safety of Yahoo!, its users and the public.”

    Thus Yahoo! can claim that Shi Tao should have known that his communications via Yahoo! email would not be protected, and that Yahoo! has never considered itself obligated to do so.

    Very reasonable people can and do have widely divergent opinions about what companies like Yahoo! should be doing in such situations.

    However one thing is clear: Human rights organizations should urge dissidents and people supplying overseas dissidents with sensitive information NEVER to use services such as the China-based Yahoo! email service. I wonder what would have happened if Shi Tao had used an e-mail service not hosted in China. I assume such a service would not be obligated to assist the Chinese authorities.

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  • Thomas

    I guess, I’d rather them refuse to be a party to putting a person in jail for thought crime even if it means a loss of a market. It’s immoral to be a party to it, especially over money… If the Chinese government retaliated then the US government would have a right to pursue sanctions against them in return… Somewhere along the line it might end up in an international body at which time UN conventions could be brought into play and China might actually loose [a trade dispute] while the person would still be free…. :)

    Also, throwing in the patriot act in a tacit moral equivalence thing is not the act of a moderate…

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  • Stephen

    “What is the difference, in substance not mechanics, between Yahoo turning this information over to the Chinese government and the US government retrieving similar information in this country either through court order or the PATRIOT act?”

    None whatsoever, but this is irrelevant to the original post as far as I can tell. No-one is claiming that you are any more protected in the US than in China. Moral: whether you live in Wuhan or Wichita, don’t use unencrypted e-mail for transferring information that you have even the slightest suspicion your government could one day use against you.

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  • ACB

    If anybody is interested, I have a copy of the abstract that Shi Tao was convicted for disclosing. I’ve posted the original Chinese and an English translation on my blog. The URL is

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