Sunday, September 18, 2005

Yahoo Helps China Crush Dissent

The Washington Post has an editorial which rightly criticizes Yahoo for the assistance that the company gave to the Chinese government in order to identify a dissident who had been using a Yahoo e-mail address.
Yahoo's co-founder, Jerry Yang, declared, "To be doing business in China, or anywhere else in the world, we have to comply with local law."
In fact, it is not at all clear that Yahoo's excuse is legitimate. American companies are not always allowed to deviate from U.S. practices when operating in foreign countries. Companies are forbidden, for example, to engage in bribery, even in countries where bribery is condoned. American companies have also been successfully sued in American courts for violating international human rights laws. More important, in 1989 Congress specifically forbade U.S. companies to sell "crime control and detection" equipment to the Chinese. At the time, that meant police gear, such as truncheons and handcuffs. Members of Congress have recently asked the Commerce Department to clarify whether that law covers the sale of filters or other repressive information technology. If the conclusion is that it doesn't, maybe it's time for Congress to have a look at that law again.
--if, in fact, American companies are helping China become more authoritarian, more hostile and more of an obstacle to U.S. goals of democracy promotion around the world -- then it is time to rethink the rules under which they operate.