WASHINGTON — Yahoo Inc Chief Executive Jerry Yang took a verbal lashing from lawmakers on Tuesday over the company’s role in helping identify a Chinese dissident who was later imprisoned by the government.
“While technologically and financially you are giants, morally you are pygmies,” Rep. Tom Lantos, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told Yang and another Yahoo executive at the three-hour hearing.
Yang and Yahoo general counsel Michael Callahan were battered with criticism from both Democrats and Republicans over the case of Shi Tao, a reporter accused by Chinese authorities of leaking state secrets abroad and sentenced last April to 10 years in prison.
Shi’s crime was to forward foreign human rights groups an e-mail from Chinese government authorities that directed journalists to avoid coverage of the 15th anniversary of the Chinese army killings of pro-democracy protesters near Tiananmen Square in 1989, said Lantos, a California Democrat.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Yang apologized to the committee and to Shi’s family and said Yahoo was doing what it could to help get Shi released.
Yang said Yahoo did not know the user information sought by the Chinese government involved a political dissident when its China office turned over the information.
Still, Yang stopped short of endorsing legislation pending in the House that would bar U.S. Internet companies from cooperating with authorities in China and other repressive regimes.
The bill is designed to stop companies such as Yahoo from turning over personal information to governments that use it to suppress dissent. It would give individuals the right to sue companies in federal court if their information was improperly disclosed.
And the two Yahoo executives would not commit to providing financial help to Shi’s family, despite demands from committee members that they do so.
Callahan said a decision to extend help to Shi’s family would be complicated, citing an example of a dissident who had been targeted for retaliation by the Chinese government after expressions of support in the United States.