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U.S. Firms Balance Morality, Commerce

From left, Mark Chandler of Cisco Systems, Elliot Schrage of Google, Jack Krumholtz of Microsoft and Michael Callahan of Yahoo testify before a congressional subcommittee, where they were asked to address concerns about conducting Internet business in China even while its government suppresses freedom of expression and other basic human rights.
From left, Mark Chandler of Cisco Systems, Elliot Schrage of Google, Jack Krumholtz of Microsoft and Michael Callahan of Yahoo testify before a congressional subcommittee, where they were asked to address concerns about conducting Internet business in China even while its government suppresses freedom of expression and other basic human rights. (By Manuel Balce Ceneta -- Associated Press)

According to court documents, user data from Yahoo has been used as evidence in the prosecution of at least three dissidents: Shi Tao, a journalist serving a 10-year sentence for leaking a propaganda directive; Li Zhi, a civil servant serving eight years in prison for posting an essay on the Web; and Jiang Lijun, an Internet writer sentenced to four years on charges of inciting subversion.

The Shi case has received the most attention because police appear to have identified him based on the data provided by Yahoo. In the other cases, the Yahoo data contributed to the prosecution's evidence but was not critical in identifying or convicting defendants, according to attorneys for Jiang and Li.

In Wednesday's testimony, Michael Callahan, Yahoo's general council, said the Chinese police don't explain the nature of their investigations when they request data, and he argued that Yahoo is required by law to comply with their requests.

Refusing, he said, might subject Yahoo's Chinese employees to prosecution. He also declined to say how many times Yahoo has provided user data to the police, saying Chinese law prohibited him from doing so.

But Li's well-respected attorney, Zhang Sizhi, said no law prohibits Yahoo from disclosing its contacts with the police. He said Yahoo should have refused to provide user data because almost all such requests are related to political investigations.

"They faced a choice, and they surrendered," he said, arguing that the firm could have moved its servers out of China and that its employees were in no danger. "They're making excuses."

Microsoft chose not to host e-mail services in China, but it has acknowledged being unprepared in December when it complied with a government request to delete the blog of a Chinese journalist. It drafted a policy on handling such requests afterward.

Cisco has attracted less attention in China because it provides hardware and doesn't interact with Internet users. The firm acknowledges its routers can be used to censor the Internet but says that it does not customize the equipment for the Chinese authorities.

However, MacKinnon said Cisco provides training that can be used to improve censorship, and that it also sells surveillance equipment to Chinese police agencies.


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