Yahoo sued by 3 Chinese dissidents under the ATCA

Dan Nystedt at PC World writes of the latest case against Yahoo for its disclosure of dissidents’ personal information to Chinese authorities. It comes in the wake of Yahoo’s November 2007 out-of-court settlement with other Chinese dissidents, who had sued on similar grounds.

Li Zhi, Zheng Cunzhu, and Guo Quan filed the complaint against Yahoo in the U.S. District Court of Northern California. They seek damages for their suffering due to Yahoo and Yahoo Hong Kong giving Chinese authorities access to e-mails, e-mail records, and user identification information, which then allegedly led to their imprisonment and abuse by the authorities. The suit also alleges that there are at least 60 other potential plaintiffs, who were similarly imprisoned due to Yahoo handing over their personal information to China’s government.

Li is currently imprisoned for his work in the China Democracy Party for 8 years, beginning in December 2003. Zheng lives in China but is allegedly unable to return to China, because of fear of prosecution after having been outed as an acquaintance of Li, and thus has lost his investments and property in China. Guo claims he lost his job as an associate professor at Nanjing Normal University after Yahoo revealed his Internet identity to the government.

All three base their claim on Yahoo violating international law, applicable under the Alien Tort Claims Act. They describe the essential violation:

“By providing Internet user identification information to the People’s Republic of China, [the] 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 pain and suffering.”