Ugly Chapter in Yahoo!'s History Revisited

Bill would prevent Yahoo!, others from aiding foreign crack down on free speech.

ByABC News
May 7, 2009, 11:27 AM

May 8, 2009— -- An ugly chapter in internet giant Yahoo!'s history was revisited this week with the introduction of new legislation that would prevent a repeat botch-up the company made that landed Chinese journalists in prison.

The bill would prevent companies like Yahoo!, Google, and Microsoft from helping such governments find, convict and torture citizens for engaging in democracy promotion and human rights advocacy on the internet.

"U.S. businesses should have no role in aiding and abetting oppression around the world," said Rep. Christopher Smith, (R-NJ), a long time human rights activist in Congress, who authored the New Global Online Freedom Act (GOFA).

Smith's words are weighted with memories of journalists jailed in China with the aid of Yahoo!. The company settled a lawsuit from two Chinese journalists in 2007 who went to jail after the company turned over details of their online activities to Chinese authorities.

The settlement came one week after a Congressional hearing scrutinized Yahoo!'s role in the jailing of former financial writer Shi Tao, who was jailed for providing state secrets to foreigners. His conviction stemmed from an e-mail he sent containing his notes on a government circular that spelled out restrictions on the media.

In May 2007, Shi Tao joined journalist Wang Xiaoning in suing Yahoo! and its subsidiaries, accusing the company of "aiding and abetting" their imprisonment - and their torture. Both journalists were serving ten year sentences in prison for using the web to promote democracy, and both were sentenced after Yahoo! disclosed their other online data to the Chinese government.

"After meeting with the families, it was clear to me what we had to do to make this right for them, for Yahoo!, and for the future," former Yahoo! CEO Jerry Yang said at the time.

Smith said this week that it is "unconscionable that American businesses, founded in the world's leading democracy, would even consider enabling repressive governments that seek to stifle basic freedoms."

\"After meeting with the families, it was clear to me what we had to do to make this right for them, for Yahoo!, and for the future,\" former Yahoo! CEO Jerry Yang said at the time.

Smith said this week that it is \"unconscionable that American businesses, founded in the world's leading democracy, would even consider enabling repressive governments that seek to stifle basic freedoms.\"

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