Yahoo calls for help over Web censorship

The search company accused of passing information to the Chinese authorities wants the US government to help the IT industry cope with censorship online

Internet giant Yahoo has called for Internet, communications, and media organisations to work with the US government over Chinese censorship online, the Financial Times reported on Monday.

The company wants the US government to step into the row over China's approach to the Internet, claiming that Internet operators and communications companies need help.

"[This is] everyone's dilemma: operate in a country and comply with laws that lack transparency, or withdraw," Michael Callaghan, Yahoo's general counsel, told the FT. "No one company, no one industry can tackle this on its own, we very much look forward to taking this [to Washington]," said Callaghan.

Yahoo had not responded to requests for further comment at the time of writing.

Internet companies such as Yahoo and Google face a US congressional hearing later this month to discuss human rights issues regarding cooperation with Chinese restrictions on freedom of speech.

Yahoo was heavily criticised by press freedom organisation Reporters Without Borders last week, which alleged that Yahoo had provided information to the Chinese government that led to the arrest and imprisonment of Chinese dissidents.

Reporters Without Borders said it had discovered that Yahoo user and cyberdissident Li Zhi had been convicted in December 2003 based on electronic records provided by Yahoo.

Li, an ex-civil servant, was sentenced on 10 December, 2003, to eight years in prison for "inciting subversion". He had been arrested in August 2003 after claiming in online discussion groups and articles that local officials were corrupt, according to Reporters Without Borders.

Yahoo was also criticised by human rights group Privacy International in September for "cheerfully sacrificing human rights in return for a cut of the Chinese market". Privacy International called on Internet users to boycott Yahoo over allegations that the Web giant provided information that helped Chinese officials convict journalist Shi Tao, who was accused of leaking state secrets.

Shi was sentenced to ten years in prison last April after being convicted of sending foreign Web sites a "top secret" government message regarding the dangers associated with dissidents.

"How many more cases are we going to find?" Reporters Without Borders asked last week.

CNET's Jim Kerstetter contributed to this report.