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Yahoo committed to free speech

But will adhere to local laws

Yahoo yesterday made commitments to work for greater openness in countries where it operates, while also saying it needs to comply with local laws, in a statement released just days before government hearings in Washington on US internet companies' China operations.

Yahoo has come under fire for giving information to China's government that helped prosecute Chinese journalist Shi Tao last year, and the company has been accused of handing over information about political activist Li Zhi. Yahoo has since transferred day-to-day control of its China operations to Chinese internet company Alibaba.com.

The criticism has come at the same time as attacks on Google for its launch of a search site in China that blocks results that the government has deemed sensitive. The US House of Representatives' Subcommittee on Global Human Rights, Africa and International Operations is set to hold hearings tomorrow to investigate how US internet companies operate in China. Representatives of Yahoo and Google, as well as Microsoft, Cisco and advocacy group Reporters Without Borders, are expected to attend.

"We recognise each country enacts its own laws in accordance with its own local norms and mores, and we must comply with applicable laws. We also believe our presence significantly benefits a country's citizens through access to services and information," Yahoo said.

The company offers localised content in 12 languages in more than 20 countries, it said. Like other internet portal companies, it is expanding its products from search, news and email to other areas including shopping and entertainment content.

Yahoo said it is committed to open availability of the internet and would take four steps as a result:

- work with industry, government, academic and non-governmental organisations to explore policies to guide industry practices in countries where content is more tightly restricted than in the US, and promote the principles of freedom of speech and expression.

- stay committed to user privacy and compliance with the law by employing rigorous procedural protections in response to government requests for information.

- if requested by a government, restrict search results only if required by law and in a way that affects results as little as possible. If Yahoo has to restrict searches, it will also do it as transparently as possible to users, it said.

- engage in continuing policy dialogue with governments about the internet and the free flow of information.

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