I read the recent complaint in the litigation by Chinese victims of torture at the hands of the PRC government, and I think it provides a perfect example of the danger that vast amounts of mined data can cause when collected by companies like Google and Yahoo!
It's also particularly dangerous that China is using its control over its economy, and access thereto, to force foreign corporations to a level of conformity with their laws. By foreign corporations, I don't mean Yahoo! China, but Microsoft. Microsoft recently censored a blog hosted on the US version of MSN Spaces, on servers not inside of China, but instead the United States.
The complaint takes Yahoo!, Yahoo! China Holdings, and Alibaba (Yahoo's strategic business partner in China) to task over its voluntary level of complicity with the Chinese government and assets 12 causes of action against Yahoo:
- Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Punishment
- Arbitrary Arrest and Prolonged Detention
- Forced Labor
- False Imprisonment
- Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress
- Violation of the California Business & Professional Code
- Violation of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act
The complaint begins by detailing Yahoo's signing of the voluntary agreement with the government, and points out that numerous human rights groups at the time expressed concern over Yahoo's actions, saying it could eventually lead to precisely what happened in 2005 that this case is a result of.
They accuse Yahoo! of being complicit in their arrest, torture and other human rights abuses, and being directly responsible.
The first plaintiff, Wang Xiaoning, was arrested after Yahoo! notified authorities that he was "anonymously" sending out pro-democracy emails. His computers were then seized,and a month later he was "beaten and kicked". The prison guards encouraged other prisoners to use "psychological tactics" so that he would confess and receive "punishment for his writings". He was often not permitted to go outside, and he was kept inside so long he developed respiratory problems.
The court tried him on charges of "incitement to subvert state power" and was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 2 additional years of political rights deprivation.
The Chinese court specifically mentioned Yahoo! as being "instrumental" in the arrest of Wang Xianong.
Wang was threatened that if he appealed the ruling, his privileges would be revoked. Wang appealed anyways, and lost on this appeal and on another appeal filed through his wife later.
"Beijing Municipal No. 2 Prison... is a secretive, high-security forced labor prison where serious and "special control" prisoners are held... He is held in a cell with nine other inmates and subjected to malnourishment. ... deny Wang any access to recreation or even sunlight for weeks and even months at a time.... refused to allow Wang to see his mother before her death.... his wife allowed to see him at most for only one half hour per month.
The second plaintiff, Yu Ling, the wife of the first plaintiff, has experienced "continued police surveillance" and people coming to visit her are required to register their names, which caused her friends and family to no longer contact her.
Shi Tao is the third plaintiff, and he wrote numerous political commentaries calling for democratic reform". He leaked a government document detailing severe restrictions on media rights and government crackdowns for the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre through the use of a Yahoo! email account.
Yahoo! provided Chinese officials information linking Shi Tao to these so-called "crimes". He was kidnapped in the middle of the street, placed into a van with a hood over his head, and transported thousands of miles away.
Survivors of the prison he was held at describe being chained for weeks at a time, sometimes to a door plank. They were not allowed family visitors.
His attorney then had his credentials yanked by the Chinese Government, and subsequently was placed under house arrest. A lawyer was put in place for Shi Tao that entered a guilty plea on his behalf without permission.
He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, a prison where inmates regularly work 16 hour days. Prisoners are often denied sleep and forced to work late into the night under bright lights... lights bright enough to sometimes cause blindness. Workshops are run by violent inmates whom intimidate the remaining prisoners.
After reading through this complaint, it makes me sick to think that the Bush administration went to war in Iraq allegedly in part to "promote freedom in Iraq", while US corporations are participating in atrocities committed over-seas.
Unfortunately, there is a chance that Yahoo! may be able to wiggle out of this due to some legal loop hole. Let's just hope that doesn't happen. Western corporations need to be held accountable for their actions overseas, of which Yahoo's are but 10 fish in an entire sea.