Friday, August 31, 2007

Yahoo! and Chinese Dissidents

Yahoo! is moving to dismiss a lawsuit by two Chinese dissidents which the company of facilitating their torture and unjust imprisonment by revealing details of their user accounts to Chinese police authorities. The lawsuit alleges that, as a result, the dissidents were arrested, tortured and sentenced to long prison terms at hard labor.

In the Motion to Dismiss, Yahoo! expresses sympathy for the dissidents, but argues that the case has "no place in the American courts." I don't agree.

Yes, Yahoo! has a corporate duty to maximize profits, but it also must have known what could happen to the dissidents if it helped the Chinese authorities. And, yes, Chinese law apparently required Yahoo! to provide evidence in the criminal case - just as U.S. law does - but U.S. law also prohibits torture, even overseas. (Tell that to the CIA.)

Bottom line: Yahoo! has to bear some responsibility for its actions. This is a tough case that will probably go to the Supreme Court, which will have to answer a troubling question: do profits matter more to us than liberty? Read more.