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RealTime IT News

Yahoo Accused of Releasing China User Data

UPDATED: Press Freedom group Reporters Without Borders said Yahoo has done it again: provided Chinese authorities details of a man who used the Internet service to post comments critical of the repressive nation's policies.

Li Zhi was handed an eight-year prison sentence for "inciting subversion" after criticizing local officials online, the group said.

"We are looking into the report," said Yahoo spokesperson Mary Osako. "We would not know the nature of an investigation," she added, countering the Reporters Without Borders claim.

But the journalist advocacy group begged to differ. "Yahoo certainly knew it was helping to arrest political dissidents and journalists, not just ordinary criminals," the group said in a statement.

At an appeal hearing in February 2004, Zhi's lawyer, Ahang Sizhi, said his client was sentenced based on data from Yahoo Hong Kong.

The accusation follows earlier criticism that Yahoo provided information used by China to convict a reporter for revealing state secrets.

Yahoo was criticized in 2005 after it became known the company revealed information that the Chinese government used to convict reporter Shi Tao of revealing state secrets.

Yahoo, Google and Microsoft have been criticized for cooperating with China's attempts to criticize protesters.

Reporters Without Borders is asking Internet firms to use U.S.-based computers, which would enable companies to avoid complying with requests for information from "repressive countries."

"The choice in China isn't whether to comply with law enforcement demands for information, but whether to remain in the country," said Osako.

The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on International Relations holds a hearing Feb. 15 about Internet companies in China.

Osako said Yahoo will use the forum to ask the U.S. government to "help us continue providing services we know benefit China's citizens and do so in a way consistent with our beliefs and values.

"All U.S. and international firms operating in China face the same dilemma of complying with laws that lack transparency and that can have disturbing consequences inconsistent with our own beliefs," Osako said in a statement e-mailed to internetnews.com late Thursday.

"Companies that choose to enter the market in the future will face the same struggle to effectively balance what they believe which laws they must obey," Osako said.