By Joel Rothstein and Eric Auchard
U.S. Internet companies faced fresh bipartisan criticism in the
Congress on Thursday following heightened controversy over Yahoo
Inc.'s alleged role in the Chinese government's eight-year prison
sentence against a second dissident.
"I don't like any American company ratting out a citizen for speaking
out against their government," Rep. Tim Ryan, an Ohio Democrat and
member of the House Human Rights Subcommittee, told Reuters on
"This is the tip of the iceberg of a very oppressive regime that we
have almost become accustomed to America," Rep. Chris Smith, a
Republican and chairman of the House Human Rights Subcommittee, told
The storm over Western media companies' compliance with China's
policies comes before next week's hearing by Smith's committee where
lawmakers from both parties are expected to grill representatives from
Yahoo, Google Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Cisco Systems Inc..
"There are probably others (dissidents) that we need to find out
about. We are going to make sure it doesn't get swept under the rug,"
Google came under fire last month for bowing to Chinese government
pressure to block politically sensitive terms on its new Chinese
site. Microsoft has also angered human rights activists by blocking
the blog of a critic of the Beijing government.
Yahoo spokeswoman Linda Osaka said her company was unaware of the
details of the latest case raised by Paris-based international rights
group Reporters Without Borders. The group said Yahoo provided
electronic records to Chinese authorities that led to the imprisonment
of writer Li Zhi in 2003.
"The choice in China and other countries is not whether to comply with
local laws. The choice is whether to remain in the country or not,"
Osaka said. "We have a philosophy of engagement. We believe the
Internet is a positive force."
Yahoo's engagement includes a $1 billion investment last year to
acquire a 40 percent stake in Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba.com,
which now runs the company's China operations.
Alibaba has moved all of its 2,000 Yahoo China servers from the United
States to China, Alibaba's CEO said last year.
Smith, one of the harshest China critics in Congress, said he wants
legislation requiring companies to pull operations such as e-mail
servers out of China and other countries that lack U.S.-style civil
rights and due process protections.
Google is already engaged in a legal battle with the Bush
administration over whether the Justice Department can force the Web
search company to turn over data about its customers' Web-surfing
habits. The information is sought by the government to defend a law to
prevent online child pornography.
Smith said the hearings set for February 15 will push Yahoo to reveal
what information it provided to the Chinese government, the number of
people involved and details on how Yahoo interacts with what he
describes as the "secret police."
"We only responded with what we were legally compelled to provide and
nothing more," Osako said. "We had a vigorous process in place to make
sure that only required material was provided," she said.
"Congress remains very concerned with the Chinese pressure on Internet
companies to help in Beijing's continuing crackdown on free speech,"
said Rep. Tom Lantos (news, bio, voting record), the founding
co-chairman of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus.
"We are looking into ways in which the companies can resist or
circumvent this pressure, and this will be Topic A at our hearing next
week," said Lantos, the ranking Democrat on the House International
Relations Committee whose district includes the northern edge of
"The bloom is off the rose for the Internet industry," said John
Palfrey, director of an Internet think tank at Harvard Law
School. "There is a sense that American companies have a higher
obligation than has been practiced in China in recent years."
Copyright 2006 Reuters Limited.
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