House Committee Grills Yahoo Executives

November 6, 2007. The House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) held a hearing titled "Yahoo! Inc.’s Provision of False Information to Congress". The witnesses were Jerry Yang (CEO of Yahoo) and Michael Callahan (General Counsel of Yahoo).

Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA) called Yahoo a "spineless and irresponsible" company, whose General Counsel, Michael Callaghan, provided "false information to this Committee" at a hearing in 2006.

Rep. Lantos' criticism was twofold. First, it misled the HFRC about its assistance to the government of the People's Republic of China (PRC) in identifying a user of Yahoo China. Second, he argued that the underlying assistance to the PRC was abhorrent.

Rep. Lantos is also pushing legislation, HR 275 [LOC | WW], the "Global Online Freedom Act of 2007". Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) is the sponsor, and Rep. Lantos is a cosponsor. The HFAC approved an amendment in the nature of a substitute [29 pages in PDF] on October 23, 2007. However, the full House has not taken up the bill.

See also, story titled "House Committee Approves Global Online Freedom Act" in TLJ Daily E-Mail Alert No. 1,662, October 25, 2007.

Rep. Tom LantosRep. Lantos (at right) said in his opening statement on November 6 that Yahoo, without any opposition, "complied with the request from the Chinese political suppression apparatus and provided the necessary identifying information to track down Shi Tao" ... "a young journalist ... who is languishing in a Chinese dungeon on a 10-year sentence because" he used Yahoo China's e-mail service to send a message that the PRC government had issued a "directive forbidding journalists from covering anything related to" the "15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre".

Rep. Lantos said that "I do not believe that America's best and brightest companies should be playing integral roles in China's notorious and brutal political repression apparatus".

Rep. Lantos said that "Callahan testified that Yahoo! had no knowledge of the facts surrounding the Shi Tao case at the time the company provided information to the Chinese authorities" and that "Yahoo! claims that this is just one big misunderstanding, that Yahoo’s false testimony was really just a matter of an internal miscommunication." Rep. Lantos responded, "Let me be clear -- this was no misunderstanding."

Jerry Yang asserted in his prepared testimony [4 pages in PDF] that Yahoo "has been open and forthcoming with this Committee at every step of this investigative process".

Yang asserted that Yahoo is "committed to doing the right thing and to protecting human rights globally".

Yang asserted that Yahoo is "focused on protecting and promoting free expression and privacy in the online world".

Callahan wrote in his prepared testimony [4 pages in PDF] that "my testimony in 2006 has caused confusion about what Yahoo! knew and didn’t know about the contents of a demand for information that Yahoo! China received from the Chinese government in the Shi Tao case. This confusion, and my statements at the 2006 hearing, stem from a lack of information on my part, which I sincerely regret".

He also argued that "Yahoo! China was required to provide the demanded information" and that "I cannot ask our local employees to resist lawful demands and put their own freedom at risk".