Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.


Yahoo has once again been accused by Reporters Sans Frontieres, the Paris-based press freedom watchdog group, of turning over information about a computer user in China.

Reporters Sans Frontieres said the user, Li Zhi, was sentenced to eight years in prison for "inciting subversion" based on electronic records provided by Yahoo. Li, a 35-year-old ex-civil servant from Dazhou, used the e-mail address and user-name lizhi34100 to post comments in online discussion groups about corruption of local officials.

Yahoo declined to comment, according to CNET's report.

On a personal level this raises the privacy issue: How can I know the extent to which a company is protecting my private information?

One solution: Encourage companies to disclose each time they have received a subpoena. This would not be perfect, but it would at least give an idea of the threats to privacy. Any other ideas?

Note: I may cross-post comments on the IHT blog and they may be reproduced in the paper for publication.


If it is a civil prosecution, there's every reason to let the person who is being subpoena'd know. Especially if this is a demand letter from an industry organization like RIAA / MPAA. In fact for at least some ISPs that I know of, it is standard practice.

If it is a subpoena served by law enforcement, in a criminal case, providers are quite often barred from revealing that an investigation is in progress, and that data has been subpoena'd.

Especially where the subpoena is for the account of a stalker, child molester or phisher / scam artist (which account for almost 90% of the *criminal* subpoenas that come our way).

Sometime I feel very uncomfortable after reading similar posts on the net. Yahoo has trust-e privacy seal. Therefore, we can conclufe that similar privacy seals don't contribute much to our privacy, mostly beacuse e-privacy now is quite sophisticated issue and most people dont know what exactly this seal means.
Here is quotation from yahoo privacy policy:
"- We respond to subpoenas, court orders, or legal process, or to establish or exercise our legal rights or defend against legal claims;
- We believe it is necessary to share information in order to investigate, prevent, or take action regarding illegal activities, suspected fraud, situations involving potential threats to the physical safety of any person, violations of Yahoo!'s terms of use, or as otherwise required by law."
Privacy is marketing tool for many companies now. None cares about privacy seriously. When you surf tens of websites daily, it is unrealitically to read each privacy statement. Unless website owners will be interested to provide proper privacy for its visitors, we will hardly achieve any significant improvement in this area.
Second variant is special areas where provider guarantee 100% privacy of personal data and inform member in case company is going to share this information with anyone including government bodies. But many commercial organizations will deny to participate this project because they will have lost potentially biggest market - China. I think that reality is that governments have established their power under the net - if you want to work in our country, dont want to have legal issues etc. then you should follow our rule - government's rule. So there is no free from restrictions internet as it was in the early 90th.

I don't think we can expect companies to protect our privacy, not when faced with a government subpoena, but I would like to know what it was Li Zhi supposedly wrote - his exact comments - that resulted in his arrest and imprisonment.

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(Via Joi Ito's Web) Reporters Sans Frontieres claims that more dissidents may have been jailed in China, following disclosure of their identities by Yahoo in response to PRC requests. I echo Thomas Crampton's call for transparency: If it is the... Read More