Reporters Without Borders voiced support today for a shareholder resolution about freedom of expression that has been filed with Yahoo! and Google by the New York City Pension Fund, which owns nearly 400 million dollars of stock in the two companies.
“More and more initiatives are being taken by individual shareholders and investment funds to force Internet companies to respect certain ethical principles when operating in repressive countries,” the press freedom organisation said. “The New York City Pension Fund’s involvement is excellent news because it is an investor with both financial and symbolic weight.”
Reporters Without Borders added: “We call on all shareholders in Yahoo! and Google, both individuals and management companies, to vote in support of this resolution at these companies’ next annual shareholders meetings.”
The shareholder resolution (full text below) was announced today by New York city comptroller William C. Thompson. The city’s pension fund, which mainly handles the retirement funds of city employees, owns 687,244 shares in Google worth 276 million dollars and 4,372,277 shares in Yahoo! worth 110 million dollars.
The resolution sets out a series of principles to be respected by Internet companies, especially when operating in the “13 countries that restrict and monitor information.” The resolution names the same countries that appear in the list of 13 “Internet enemies” which Reporters Without Borders published in November.
The resolution affirms that: “Technology companies in the United States that operate in countries controlled by authoritarian governments have an obligation to comply with the principles of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.”
Reporters Without Borders has for several years been urging investment funds to take action in support of online free expression. At the organisation’s initiative, 30 investors signed a statement in 2005 about the moral responsibilities of Internet sector companies
A resolution calling on Cisco Systems to produce a report on his activities in repressive countries was backed by 29 per cent of shareholders in a vote at the company’s annual shareholders meeting on 15 November: .
Individual shareholders have filed a shareholder resolution on freedom of expression with Yahoo! Like the one filed by the New York City Pension Fund, it will be put up for vote at the company’s next annual shareholders meeting.
The complete text of the shareholder resolution filed with Yahoo! and Google:
Whereas, freedom of speech and freedom of the press are fundamental human rights, and free use of the Internet is protected in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees freedom to “receive and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers”, and
Whereas, the rapid provision of full and uncensored information through the Internet has become a major industry in the United States, and one of its major exports, and
Whereas, political censorship of the Internet degrades the quality of that service and ultimately threatens the integrity and viability of the industry itself, both in the United States and abroad, and
Whereas, some authoritarian foreign governments such as the Governments of Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam block, restrict, and monitor the information their citizens attempt to obtain, and
Whereas, technology companies in the United States such as Google, that operate in countries controlled by authoritarian governments have an obligation to comply with the principles of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, and
Whereas, technology companies in the United States have failed to develop adequate standards by which they can conduct business with authoritarian governments while protecting human rights to freedom of speech and freedom of expression,
Therefore, be it resolved, that shareholders request that management institute policies to help protect freedom of access to the Internet which would include the following minimum standards:
1) Data that can identify individual users should not be hosted in Internet restricting countries, where political speech can be treated as a crime by the legal system.
2) The company will not engage in pro-active censorship.
3) The company will use all legal means to resist demands for censorship. The company will only comply with such demands if required to do so through legally binding procedures.
4) Users will be clearly informed when the company has acceded to legally binding government requests to filter or otherwise censor content that the user is trying to access.
5) Users should be informed about the company’s data retention practices, and the ways in which their data is shared with third parties.
6) The company will document all cases where legally-binding censorship requests have been complied with, and that information will be publicly available.
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