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Appendix VIII: Letter from Human Rights Watch to Yahoo! and Yahoo!’s response

From Human Rights Watch to Yahoo!

July 5, 2006

Terry Semel, CEO
Yahoo! Inc.
701 First Avenue
Sunnyvale, CA 94089

Fax: +1 408 349 3301


Re: China

Dear Mr. Semel,

I am writing to request your help with research that Human Rights Watch is conducting on the role of international companies in the Internet in China. This report will include a discussion of the role of Yahoo! in China. It is our goal to present a thorough and objective report. To that end, we are soliciting information and views from your company.

We would appreciate any comments you may have about Yahoo’s role in China. Specifically, we would appreciate responses to the following questions. This will greatly assist our understanding of Yahoo! and the environment in which it works.

  1. Can Yahoo! elaborate on its human rights policies and procedures? In what way have these been adapted to China?
  2. Does the company raise objections to censorship directly with Chinese or other government authorities?
  3. Has the Chinese government specifically requested that certain words or phrases be censored? If so, can you cite examples and how the company responded?
  4. How do Yahoo! and/or Alibaba decide what words, terms or URL’s to censor and restrict from Can the company contest Chinese government requests to censor specific terms or URL’s through the legal or judicial process in China? If so, how does the company do this and has it ever challenged a request?
  5. Please provide your full and current list of blocked words, phrases, and URL’s from
  6. Does Yahoo! make public words, terms, or URL’s that are blocked or filtered on If not, would you be willing to do so, including by placing them in a prominent position on your websites?
  7. What is the process that Yahoo has to respond to requests from the Chinese government or Party officials when it asks for user information? Is there any possibility to challenge those requests and has the company ever done so?
  8. Can you explain how you responded to requests for information about Shi Tao, Li Zhi, Jiang Lijun, and Wang Xiaoning?
  9. What discussions has the company had about Shi Tao, Li Zhi, Jiang Lijun and Wang Xiaoning with Chinese government officials?
  10. Has the company met with family members or lawyers of Shi Tao, Li Zhi, Jiang Lijun and Wang Xiaoning?
  11. Under what circumstances did Yahoo! sign onto the pledge for self-discipline? Was this a voluntary decision? Did pressure on the part of Chinese authorities play a role in arriving at this decision, and if so, could you describe?
  12. What measures is Yahoo! taking in conjunction with its partner Alibaba to ensure that Alibaba, acting on behalf of a service that carries Yahoo!’s brand name, does not provide private information that facilitates the authorities in jailing people who use Yahoo!’s Chinese e-mail service to exercise their universally recognized right to peaceful political speech?
  13. What measures is Yahoo! taking in conjunction with Alibaba to improve users’ understanding that they could go to jail if they use their Yahoo!-branded e-mail service to transmit political information and opinions that are disapproved by Chinese authorities?
  14. Does Yahoo support the development of a corporate code of conduct to resist unreasonable censorship demands by the Chinese government, and what do you think that code should contain?
  15. What is the company’s position on U.S. or other government anti-censorship regulation generally, and the Smith bill in particular?

Because we are under deadline, we would appreciate a response by July 14. If we do not receive a reply by then, I am afraid we may be unable to include information you provide in the published report.

Thank you very much for your consideration of our request and I look forward to remaining in contact with you.


Brad Adams

Executive Director
Asia Division
Cc: Michael Samway, Vice-President and Vice-Counsel (via email to

Yahoo!'s Response

August l, 2006

Mr. Brad Adams

Executive Director
Asia Division
Human Rishts Watch
2-12 Pentonville Road, 2nd Floor
London N1 9HF
United Kingdom


Re: China and Global Principles

Dear Mr. Adams,

Thank you for your letter and for the opportunity to address some of the challenges our industry faces in countries like China. Our leadership and employees at Yahoo! take these issues with utmost seriousness, and we are pleased to be participating in a dialogue with groups like Human Rights Watch, including at our recent meetings with you at Oxford and in Washington, D.C. In this letter, we will try to give broader context to some of the issues at hand and in doing so answer questions set out in your letter dated July 5, 2006. As we discussed, I look forward to meeting with you further in the coming weeks to discuss more regarding your specific inquiries and to provide a solid foundation for a constructive ongoing dialogue.

Since our founding in 1995, Yahoo! has been guided by the beliefs deeply held by our founders and sustained by our employees. We are committed to open access to information and communication on a global basis. We believe information empowers people. We believe the Internet positively transforms lives, societies, and economies, and we are committed to providing individuals with easy access to information. We also believe the Internet is a positive force that will accelerate the gradual evolution toward a more outward-looking Chinese society, where Internet use has grown exponentially, expanding opportunities for access to communications, commerce, and independent sources of information for more than 110 million Chinese citizens.

Recently, a dilemma with profound human consequences surfaced, confounding not only Yahoo! but many American companies doing business in China. At the core of this dilemma is the question of whether participating as an information technology company in the gradual opening and advancement of a previously closed society can be reconciled with abiding by laws that may have consequences inconsistent with American values. The 2002 self-regulation pledge you mention in your letter is an example. The pledge involved all major Internet companies in China and was a reiteration of what was already the case - all Intenet companies in China are subject to Chinese law, including with respect to filtering and information disclosure.

All in our industry see great opportunity in China, yet we all face complex challenges doing businesss there, including lack of regulatory transparency as well as govemment censorship. The same laws compelling companies to provide information for bona fide government criminal investigations of murders or kidnappings are also used to seek information on those accused of political crimes, such as Shi Tao, without distinction. As a company built on openness and free expression, Yahoo! is deeply distressed by this situation. We condemn punishment of any activity internationally recognized as free expression, whether that punishment takes place in China or anywhere else in the world.  We have made our views clearly known to the Chinese govemment.

When Yahoo! China in Beijing was required to provide information about the user whom we later learned was Shi Tao, we had no information about the nature of the investigation, and we were unaware of the facts surrounding the case until the news story emerged. Law enforcement agencies in China, in the United States, and elsewhere rarely explain to technology, communications, financial or other businesses why they demand specific information regarding certarn individuals. When a foreign telecommunications company operating in the United States receives an order from U.S. law enforcement, it too must comply. In many cases, Yahoo! and our industry counterparts do not know the real identity of individuals about whom govemments request infomation, as very often our users subscribe to our services without using their real name. 

When the demand was made for information in this case, Yahoo! China was legally obligated to comply with the requirements of Chinese law enforcement.  Failure to comply in China could have subjected Yahoo! China and its employees to criminal charges, including imprisonment.  We are not aware of the circumstances surrounding law enforcement demands regarding the other cases you refer to in your letter. When we had operational control of Yahoo! China, we took steps to make clear our Beijing operation would comply with disclosure demands only if they came through authorized law enforcement officers, in writing, on official law enforcement letterhead, with the official agency seal, and established the legal validity of the demand. Yahoo! China only provided information as legally required and construed demands as narrowly as possible. Information demands that did not comply with this process were refused. To our knowledge, there is no process for appealing a proper demand in China. Throughout Yahoo!'s operations globally, we employ rigorous procedural protections under applicable laws in response to govemment requests for information.

By way of background, in October 2005, Yahoo! formed a long-term strategic partnership with, merging our Yahoo! China business with Today, has day-to-day operational control over Yahoo! China. As a large equity investor with one of four board seats, we have made clear to's senior management our desire that continue to apply the same rigorous standards in response to govemment demands for information about its users. We will continue to use our influence in these areas given our global beliefs about the benefits of the Internet and our understanding of requirements under local laws.

We believe companies have a moral responsibility to identify appropriate business practices globally. The strength of the information, communications, and technology industry and the power of our user base are formidable. We also believe these business and human challenges are larger than any one company or industry. We believe government-to-government discussion of the larger political and human rights issues involved is not only a moral imperative but also the most effective and primary tool to affect change in places like China.

As part of our ongoing commitment to preserving the open availability of the Intemet around the world, we have committed to the following as we explained to the U.S. Congress in February 2006:

  • Collective Action: We will work with industry, government, academia and NGOs to explore policies to guide industry practices in countries where content is treated more restrictively than in the United States and to promote the priniples of freedom of speech and expression.
  • Compliance Practices: We will continue to employ rigorous procedural protections under applicable laws in response to government requests for information, maintaining our commitment to user privacy and compliance with the law.
  • Information Restrictions: Where a government requests we restrict search results, we will do so if required by applicable law and only in a way that impacts the results as narrowly as possible. If we are required to restrict search results, we will strive to achieve maximum transparency to the user.
  • Government Engagement: We will actively engage in ongoing policy dialogue with govemments with respect to the nature of the Internet and the free flow of information.

As you know, we have been actively engaged in a global principles dialogue, working closely with our industry counterparts, academia, non-governmental organizations, such as Human R ights Watch, and govemment policy-makers. The process has gained significant momentum through recent meetings and the preparation of a draft set of global principles regarding free expression and privacy. We are hopeful the inclusive nature of the dialogue and the profound human issues at stake will continue to drive the process forward. 

We value your opinion and insights on these complex questions and look forward to reviewing your report.

With kind regards,

Michael Samway

V.P. & Deputy General Cousel – International
Yahoo! Inc.

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