SEC Says Yahoo Shareholders Must Vote on Anti-censorship Resolution

According to the office of New York City Comptroller William C. Thomson, Jr., which represents many of the city's various retirement and pension funds, the Securities and Exchange Commission has rejected a request from Yahoo to "omit" a shareholder resolution proposed by those funds, to have Yahoo adopt anti-censorship policies.

The resolution, the comptroller's office says, would institute a set of minimum standards which Yahoo would follow in dealing with other countries. For instance, it would have prohibited the company from hosting private data about members or individuals on systems housed in countries whose legal system prohibits any form of political speech.

It also would compel Yahoo management to inform users when the company accedes to a foreign government's request to restrict access to information queried through the Yahoo search engine.

Earlier this month, Google rejected a shareholders' petition on behalf of the same set of New York City funds, which called on the company to institute similar policies. Since that time, the comptroller's office has drafted a shareholder's resolution, apparently using similar language, that Google shareholders are set to vote on May 10.

Yahoo sought permission from the SEC to omit its version of the resolution from its shareholder's proxy; an SEC attorney reportedly responded in writing, denying Yahoo's request.

New York City's pension funds collectively have investments in Yahoo totaling $123.7 million, the comptroller's office reports, while its investments in Google total $338 million.

Included in the language of both shareholder petitions is the following language: "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.' 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."

The foreign governments listed in those petitions as having questionable censorship and public information management policies are: Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam.

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