According to a news interview in NPR (National Public Radio), Yahoo provided the email id of Shi Tao to the Chinese authorities. Shi Tao had emailed a bunch a people a memo that Chinese authorities had sent to journalists asking them not cover the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Yahoo’s computer techs traced the email back to Shi Tao and then provided Shi Tao’s email id to the Chinese government, which led to his arrest and imprisonment.
Obviously, this issue raises serious questions about the limits of privacy in a county where privacy is alien concept. Can private corporations be trusted to ensure the privacy of individual data? For example, when I put stuff in my Google Calendar is it within the prerogatives of Google to reveal that information to the government authorities? Importantly, is that data Google’s property or is it my property? Note this is not same as selling your email address to junk mail agents or telemarketers. When the Chinese authorities got wind of Shi Tao’s democracy activities, they promptly sent him off to jail for 10 years for revealing state secrets. Now, I feel that the American Government is creeping in this direction, but that is a post for another day.