I thought you might like to read the Amended Complaint [PDF] just filed against Yahoo! and its partners by the mother of a reporter, Shi Tao, in China sentenced to 10 years in jail for reporting on media restrictions there, ironically enough. He was convicted of leaking state secrets. Actually, he has been added as an additional plaintiff to a lawsuit filed earlier by the World Organization for Human Rights USA.
I found it interesting because it seeks to tip the equation, legally. Yahoo! and others have said they have no choice but to obey Chinese law and turn over information about customers to authorities. But the Amended Complaint in the case Wang Xiaoning, Yu Ling, Shi Tao et al v. Yahoo Inc., Yahoo Holdings, and Alibaba.com charges Yahoo! with violating US, California and international law. Now which law does Yahoo! have to obey? That will be the question.
The Amended Complaint for Tort Damages reads in part like this:
1. Plaintiffs have been subjected to grave violations of some of the most universally recognized standards of international law, including prohibitions against torture, cruel, inhuman, or other degrading treatment or punishment, arbitrary arrest and prolonged detention, and forced labor, for exercising their right of freedom of speech, association, and assembly, at the hands of Defendants through Chinese officials acting under color of law in the People's Republic of China...
2. To commit these violations of specific, universal, and obligatory standards of international law, Defendants willingly provided Chinese officials with access to private e-mail records, copies of email messages, e-mail addresses, under ID numbers, and other identifying information about the Plaintiffs and the nature and content of their use of electronic communications. This information, available only to the Defendants, was voluntarily provided to Chinese officials by Defendants Yahoo! Inc., its agents, wholly-owned subsidiaries Yahoo! HK and Yahoo! China, and its strategic partner Alibaba.com, and served as the basis for the acts of persecution and torture that followed as a direct result of the Defendant's activities. By providing this information to the PRC, Defendants knowingly and willfully aided and abetted in the commission of torture and other major abuses violating international law that caused Plaintiffs' severe physical and mental suffering.
3. Plaintiffs' claims are actionable under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), 28 U.S.C. §1350, and the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA), 28 U.S.C. §1350, because their injuries resulted from violations of specific, universal, and obligatory standards of international law as embodied in a number of treaty obligations binding on the United States and implemented domestically here in the United States by a number of statutes including the TVPA.
4. Defendants' conduct also violates California state laws, including prohibitions against battery, false imprisonment, assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligence, negligent supervision, and the California Business & Professions Code § 17200.
5. Defendants' conduct also breaches United States law under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act by exceeding their authorization to access and control highly private and potentially damaging information concerning Plaintiffs' electronic communication, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §2701, by unlawfully and knowingly divulging Plaintiffs' electronic communications contents and user information, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §2702, and by intentionally acquiring and/or intercepting the contents of electronic communications sent by and/or received by Plaintiffs through their use of computers and other electronic devices which were part of, and utilized in, Defendants' electronic communications systems, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §2511.
6. Plaintiffs seek general, compensatory, and punitive damages for their injuries, as well as declaratory and injunctive relief to hold Defendants accountable for their unlawful actions, to secure their assistance in obtaining the Plaintiffs' release from prison, and to prevent them from similarly harming others in the future.
The full list of statutes and treaties allegedly violated is on page 18 of the PDF. The document goes on to allege that Yahoo! in 2002 signed "an official, voluntary agreement that had the effect of directly involving Yahoo! in the censoring and monitoring of on-line content and communication by its Chinese users" by which pledge, Yahoo! agreed not only to monitor but to report to authorities any offending communications that could "jeopardize state security" or "disrupt social stability". Shi Tao, the complaint continues, sent information by an anonymous Yahoo! email to Democracy Forum, and Yahoo! provided information that tied the email to him. The court sentencing him referenced that specific information as evidence of his guilt.
The Prayer for Relief section begins on page 30, and it includes besides compensatory and punitive damages, a request for a determination "that the actions of the Defendants constituted violations of international law, specifically, that such violations included prohibited acts of torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and arbitrary arrest and prolonged detention for the peaceful and exchange of ideas, views, and political beliefs in violation of the Convention Against Torture, numerous other international treaty obligations binding on the United States, and domestic laws and regulations implementing such standards, including the Torture Victim Protection Act, and other enumerated causes of action in this Complaint," as well an an injunction preventing Yahoo! from "similar actions to be taken in the future".