A senior executive at Yahoo Inc has apologized for failing to give U.S. lawmakers additional information about the Internet company's alleged role in the imprisonment of a Chinese dissident.
The apology comes days before a congressional committee hearing next week, at which Yahoo Chief Executive Jerry Yang is expected to answer questions on his company's disclosure of information to Chinese authorities.
Yahoo has been accused of helping the Chinese government identify Shi Tao, a reporter who was sentenced last April to 10 years in prison for leaking state secrets abroad.
Last month, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said a Yahoo executive had given false information at a congressional hearing in 2006 about what the company knew of the Chinese government's investigation of Shi.
In February 2006, Yahoo General Counsel Michael Callahan testified that Yahoo China, then a subsidiary of Yahoo, passed information about one of its users to Chinese authorities in 2004 without knowledge of why China wanted the data.
It was only in October 2006 that Callahan realized that the order from the Chinese government mentioned an investigation into state secrets, Yahoo spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said.
The problem was caused by a bad translation of the 2004 Chinese order given to a company lawyer based in the region, she said. The lawyer did not get a correct translation until after the 2006 hearing, Schmaler said.
Months after I testified before two House subcommittees on Yahoo's approach to business in China, I realized Yahoo had additional information about a 2004 order issued by the Chinese government seeking information about a Yahoo China user, Callahan said in a statement dated November 1.
I neglected to directly alert the Committee of this new information and that oversight led to a misunderstanding that I deeply regret and have apologized to the Committee for creating, he said.
Callahan's statement came a few weeks after Rep. Tom Lantos, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he had scheduled a November 6 hearing to discuss the issue. Yang and Callahan were asked to testify.
The Yahoo spokeswoman said Callahan, a Yahoo executive vice president, would repeat his apology at the hearing.
Shi had worked as a reporter at Contemporary Business News in China and wrote articles advocating political reform. He was arrested in 2004 for publishing on an overseas Web site a document Chinese officials considered a state secret.
Yahoo said last month it was unfair for the House committee to single out the company. It is working with other companies and the human rights community to develop an Internet global code of conduct for operating in China and other countries.
Besides Yahoo, other U.S. technology companies have come under fire over their business practices in China. Google Inc was criticized for bowing to Chinese pressure to block politically sensitive terms on its Chinese site. Microsoft Corp also angered human rights activists by shutting down the blog of a critic of the Beijing government.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee endorsed legislation last month that would bar U.S. Internet companies from cooperating with authorities in China and other repressive regimes.
The bill would give individuals the right to sue companies in U.S. federal court if their information was improperly disclosed. The bill needs approval from the House Energy and Commerce Committee before it can reach the House floor. A companion bill has not yet been introduced in the Senate.