A Year After Yahoo! Incident, Internet Freedom Controversy Continues

A Year After Yahoo! Incident, Internet Freedom Controversy Continues

Last February wasn't a good month for Terry Semel. Not only was the Yahoo! Chairman and CEO in the middle of an ambitious overseas expansion project, but his web search company had been called before Congress to testify about its involvement in a high-profile international incident. Bad news for any businessman, but for U.S. foreign policy it was a sudden and unsettling introduction to the reach of the information age.

The trouble for Yahoo started with the jailing of Shi Tao, a Chinese journalist who had been convicted of "illegally providing state secrets to foreign entities" after an email he sent to an American pro-democracy Web site in 2004 was intercepted by the authorities. It's the kind of thing that happens all the time in China's state-monitored media climate, but the difference in Tao's case was that an American firm had been involved in his conviction. That's right -- the message that earned the journalist 10 years in a labor camp was turned over to the government by Yahoo's Chinese partner company.

The decision made smart business sense -- after all, compliance with official requests for user information is required by Chinese law -- but it ruffled more than a few feathers back home. And once news of the Tao case hit Washington, it didn't take long for Congress to take an interest, calling for a full investigation into the incident.

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