Yahoo Shareholders Defeat Human Rights, Censorship Resolutions

This afternoon, Reuters reports, shareholders of Yahoo defeated two resolutions offered by representatives of New York City's pension funds, one of which would have mandated it would no longer store personally identifying data on servers housed in any country where Internet use among citizens is monitored by its government. An identical proposal was defeated by Google's shareholders last month.

The data storage policy and anti-censorship proposal was defeated by a vote of 15% in favor to 74% in opposition, with the remainder abstaining. A separate proposal advanced by a single shareholder - a John C. Harrington of Napa, California - that would have established an independent human rights committee of the Board of Directors, went down in something less than a blaze of glory: 4% in favor, 80% opposed. Both proposals were argued down by Yahoo annual proxy statement, whose recommendations shareholders do tend to follow.

As the preamble to the data storage policy proposal read, "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."' Therefore, the amended bylaws would have read, "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."

The Board of Directors' argument against the pension funds' proposal was that its current bylaws give the company flexibility in dealing with matters of business with countries suspected of human rights violations, whereas amended bylaws would have tied the company's hands. Besides, it went on, human rights violations shouldn't be dealt with by private corporations but by governments and diplomats.

"Yahoo! is deeply concerned by efforts of some governments to restrict communication and control access to information," reads the company's proxy statement. "Yahoo! also firmly believes the continued presence and engagement of companies like Yahoo! in these markets is a powerful force in promoting openness and reform. Yahoo! understands its responsibility to remain engaged on these issues on a global basis; however, Yahoo! believes private industry alone cannot effectively influence foreign government policies on issues like the free exchange of ideas and open access to information. Because state actors have the most leverage in this field, Yahoo! believes continued government-to-government dialogue in bilateral and multilateral forums is vital to achieve progress on these complex political and human rights issues."

The office of New York City Comptroller William C. Thompson, Jr., issued this statement: "We must ensure that we preserve the fundamental human rights of freedom of speech and freedom the press. We cannot allow political censorship of the Internet to threaten the integrity and viability of the industry at home and abroad. I will encourage the New York City Pension Funds to resubmit the measure next year."

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