SAN FRANCISCO (July 25, 2007) – New documentation of the Beijing State Security Bureau’s request for user account information from Internet company Yahoo! in the case of Chinese journalist Shi Tao raises new questions about how much the company knew at the time of the request about the nature of the police investigation.
The police document, a copy of which recently surfaced on the web site of the US-based Chinese-language web site Boxun.com, 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 (PDF) 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 “illegally providing state secrets to foreign entities” (a state security crime under China’s 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, firstname.lastname@example.org.Court documents (PDF) have already revealed that this account information was used as evidence in the trial against Shi.
In February 2006 testimony (PDF) before two congressional subcommittees investigating the practices of American Internet companies in China, Yahoo! senior vice president and general counsel Michael Callahan stated: “When Yahoo! China in Beijing was required to provide information about the user, who we later learned was Shi Tao, we had no information about the nature of the investigation.” While condemning China’s punishment of free expression, Callahan noted that Yahoo! was authorized to comply with legally authorized law enforcement requests in the countries in which it operates.
“This new documentation suggests that Yahoo!’s Beijing office was at least aware of the general nature of the crime being investigated in the Shi Tao case,” says Joshua Rosenzweig, manager of research and publications for The Dui Hua Foundation, “even if it was unaware of the specific circumstances or the name of the individual involved. One does not have to be an expert in Chinese law to know that ‘state secrets’ charges have often been used to punish political dissent in China.”
“We must remember,” Rosenzweig adds, “that before Shi Tao there were three other Chinese dissidents about whom Chinese police obtained user information from Yahoo! in Beijing. If we assume that law enforcement agencies investigating these cases followed the same procedures to obtain that information, three other notices would have been provided specifying investigations into subversion or incitement—crimes of a more unambiguous political nature.”
Shi Tao, sentenced in 2005 by a court in Hunan Province to 10 years’ imprisonment for “illegally providing state secrets to foreign entities,” was jailed for sending an overseas web site details of a secret government memorandum warning Chinese media outlets against voicing opinions contrary to official policies during the months prior to the sensitive 15th anniversary of the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations. Shi recently joined another jailed Chinese dissident, Wang Xiaoning, in seeking damages in US federal court against Yahoo! and its Hong Kong subsidiary.
The Dui Hua Foundation
San Francisco, California
July 25, 2007