Google Recommends No Vote On Human Rights, Anti-Censorship Proposals

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google3.jpgGoogle has recommended a no vote against two shareholder proposals to be put to their annual general meeting May 8 that relate to free speech and human rights.

Proposal 4 comes from the The Office of the Comptroller of New York City and St. Scholastica Monastery. The Office of the Comptroller of New York City is the custodian and trustee of the Retirement System of NYC Teachers, Police, Fire Deparment and Education System. It reads:


Internet Censorship

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.

Resolution 5 comes from Harrington Investments and calls for a Google Board Committee on Human Rights:

4.7 COMMITTEE ON HUMAN RIGHTS

RESOLVED: To amend the Bylaws, by inserting the following after section 4.6:

Section 4.7. Board Committee on Human Rights. There is established a Board Committee on Human Rights, which is created and authorized to review the implications of company policies, above and beyond matters of legal compliance, for the human rights of individuals in the US and worldwide.

The Board of Directors is authorized in its discretion consistent with these Bylaws, the Articles of Incorporation and applicable law to (1) select the members of the Board Committee on Human Rights, (2) provide said committee with funds for operating expenses, (3) adopt regulations or guidelines to govern said Committee’s operations, (4) empower said Committee to solicit public input and to issue periodic reports to shareholders and the public, at reasonable expense and excluding confidential information, including but not limited to an annual report on the implications of company policies, above and beyond matters of legal compliance, for the human rights of individuals in the US and worldwide, and (5) any other measures within the Board’s discretion consistent with these Bylaws and applicable law.

Nothing herein shall restrict the power of the Board of Directors to manage the business and affairs of the company. The Board Committee on Human Rights shall not incur any costs to the company except as authorized by the Board of Directors.

SUPPORTING STATEMENT

The proposed Bylaw would establish a Board Committee on Human Rights which would review and make policy recommendations regarding human rights issues raised by the company’s activities and policies. We believe the proposed Board Committee on Human Rights could be an effective mechanism for addressing the human rights implications of the company’s activities and policies as they emerge anywhere in the world. In defining “human rights,” proponents suggest that the committee could use the US Bill of Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as nonbinding benchmark or reference documents.

Google, Yahoo and other US companies operating in China have come under heavy attack over the last 12 months for operating within the boundaries of local law where those laws are not aligned with Western ideals. Google’s stance against proposals such as these will not win the Mountain View search giant many fans in the human rights movement.

(in part via Barrons)

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