Yahoo Betrays Free Speech
For a company that ostensibly believes in the Internet’s liberating power, Yahoo has a gallingly backward understanding of the value of free expression.
The company helped Beijing’s state police uncover the Internet identities of two Chinese journalists, who were handed 10 years in prison for disseminating pro-democracy writings. Testifying before Congress last year about one case, Yahoo’s legal counsel said the company was unaware of the nature of the investigation. Did he miss the language about providing “state secrets to foreign entities” — a red flag for a political prosecution?
Last month, Yahoo settled a suit by the families of the jailed journalists but it did not admit doing wrong and is refusing to change its procedures to avoid becoming a stool pigeon for China’s police state again.
Yahoo’s collaboration is appalling, and Yahoo is not the only American company helping the Chinese government repress its people. Microsoft shut down a blogger at Beijing’s request. Google, Yahoo and Microsoft censor searches in China. Cisco Systems provided hardware used by Beijing to censor and monitor the Internet.
These companies argue that it is better for the Chinese people to have a censored Internet than no Internet. They say that they must abide by the laws of the countries they operate in. But the Chinese Constitution guarantees freedom of speech, the press, association and assembly. Those guarantees may be purely symbolic, but these companies — which loudly protest Chinese piracy of their intellectual property — have not tried to resist. What they are resisting are efforts in Congress that could help them stand against repressive governments.
Last January, Representative Christopher Smith of New Jersey reintroduced the Global Online Freedom Act in the House. It would fine American companies that hand over information about their customers to foreign governments that suppress online dissent. The bill would at least give American companies a solid reason to decline requests for data, but the big Internet companies do not support it. That shows how much they care about the power of information to liberate the world.
Originally appeared in New York Times.