Rep. Tom Lantos, a Democratic politician who relentlessly assailed Yahoo and other Internet companies for doing business in China, died of esophageal cancer on Monday. He was 80 years old.
Lantos--who was chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee--represented one of the most liberal congressional districts in the nation, including portions of San Francisco and the cities on the peninsula immediately to the south. A secular Jew born in Hungary, he was the only Holocaust survivor to be elected to the U.S. Congress.
In technology circles, Lantos was best-known in recent years for lambasting executives from Yahoo, Google, Cisco Systems, and Microsoft over their choice to do business in China. Yahoo was singled out for special criticism--Lantos called the company "spineless" during a hearing last fall.
When Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang and Yahoo's general counsel showed up, Lantos and his fellow committee members attacked the company for more than an hour before allowing them to reply. Lantos said to the Yahoo-ers: "Morally you are pygmies...an appallingly disappointing performance. I think we cannot begin to tell you how disappointing Mr. Yang's and your performance was...attempt to obfuscate and divert...outrageous behavior."
Lantos' complaint was that Yahoo China received a request invoking "state secrets" for information about one of its subscribers in April 2004--and complied. That information led to the imprisonment of Shi Tao, a 39-year old journalist and poet who had forwarded pro-democracy information to which the Chinese government objected. (Yahoo is a minority investor in the Alibaba Group, which operates Yahoo China and other sites like Taobao.com, China's biggest online auction site.)
Lantos brought Shi Tao's mother to the November 2007 hearing in Washington, D.C., seated her in the front of the room, and told Yang: "I would urge you to beg the forgiveness of the mother whose son is languishing behind bars thanks to Yahoo's actions."
In a statement, Lantos' office said he is survived by his wife, 2 daughters, 18 grandchildren, and 2 great-grandchildren.