U.S. investigators plan to find out whether Yahoo officials misrepresented the U.S. Internet company's role in the case of a Chinese journalist sentenced to ten years in jail.
House Foreign Affairs Chairman Tom Lantos ordered the investigation after a human rights group released a document that it said raised questions about what Yahoo knew when it shared information with authorities about Shi Tao. Beijing officials wanted Shi for sending an e-mail about Chinese media restrictions.
"For a firm engaged in the information industry, Yahoo sure has a lot of secrecy to answer for," said Lantos, a Democrat. "We expect to learn the truth and to hold the company to account."
Yahoo general counsel Michael Callahan told U.S. lawmakers at a hearing last year that his company had no information about the nature of the investigation when it provided details about Shi to Chinese officials, Lantos said.
But the Dui Hua Foundation, a human rights group, has released a document that allegedly shows the Beijing State Security Bureau had written Yahoo saying they wanted e-mail content about Shi for an investigation into suspected "illegal provision of state secrets to foreign entities."
Lantos said that "covering up such a despicable practice when Congress seeks an explanation is a serious offense."
Jim Cullinan, a Yahoo spokesman, expressed disappointment that Lantos "is rushing to judgment on this issue, because the facts will support Yahoo's testimony to Congress."
Regarding the document released by Dui Hua, Cullinan said "there are many and various descriptions of what state secrets could be, including legitimate investigations into things like terrorism."
To do business with China's more than 100 million Internet users, U.S. tech companies must satisfy a government that fiercely polices Internet content. Filters block objectionable foreign Web sites; regulations ban what the Chinese consider subversive and pornographic content and require service providers to enforce censorship.
The document requesting information from Yahoo was translated by Dui Hua; it was posted anonymously last week on the Web site of the U.S.-based Chinese-language Web site Boxun.com, said Joshua Rosenzweig, research manager at Dui Hua.
He said it "is essentially a standardized search warrant making clear that Chinese law enforcement agencies have the legal authority to collect evidence in criminal cases."
Rosenzweig said Dui Hua believes the document is authentic based on comparisons with other Chinese legal papers the foundation has seen.