EXCLUSIVE: SEC Urged To Stop Tech Giant From Blocking ‘Free Speech’ Resolution

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Conservative legal group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) told the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Tuesday to reject Apple’s request to block votes for a shareholder resolution that would require an investigation into how the company’s policies impact free speech.

The American Family Association (AFA) submitted a resolution asking Apple to conduct an investigation and issue a report on the way it curates content to ensure it is not using its “vague and subjective terms of use” to limit speech based on viewpoint. ADF asked the SEC this week to decline Apple’s request to exclude the resolution from its 2024 Annual Meeting of Shareholders, according to the letter obtained by the Daily Caller News foundation.

“Large tech companies like Apple govern the digital public square, and they ought to govern it in a way that’s consistent with First Amendment principles related to free speech,” ADF Senior Counsel and Senior Vice President for Corporate Engagement Jeremy Tedesco told the DCNF. “Apple itself says they believe in the critical importance of an open society in which information flows freely. But the policies that they have in place are entirely inconsistent with that commitment.”

Apple’s App Store terms of use restrict apps with “content that is offensive, insensitive, upsetting, intended to disgust, in exceptionally poor taste, or just plain creepy…particularly if the app is likely to humiliate, intimidate, or harm a targeted individual or group.” The terms also state that the company “will reject apps for any content or behavior that we believe is over the line.”

“What line, you ask?” the terms continue. “Well, as a Supreme Court Justice once said, ‘I’ll know it when I see it’. And we think that you will also know it when you cross it.”

These terms, ADF argues in its letter, provide “no clarity” and “remain rife for abuse by Apple itself or third-party activists or governments who may want to coerce Apple to restrict user speech or religious freedom.”

Apple has a history of blocking a variety of apps and content, including the religious speech AFA is chiefly concerned about. In 2010, it removed the Manhattan Declaration app, a declaration for Christians to defend “the sanctity of life, traditional marriage, and religious liberty.”

In 2019, it banned the pro-life news organization LifeSite News from Apple News. Apple scores an 8% out of 100% on ADF’s 2023 Viewpoint Diversity Business Index.

An attendee holds a new Apple iPhone 14 Pro during an Apple special event on Sept. 7 in Cupertino, California. (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Given what the Twitter files revealed about government officials’ repeated requests for tech companies to censor speech, Tedesco said shareholders are also concerned Apple’s policies present “an open opportunity and invitation” for government takedown requests.

The Supreme Court will hear a case later this term brought by the attorneys general of Missouri and Louisiana challenging the federal government’s coordination with social media companies to suppress speech online. (RELATED: Supreme Court Takes Up Landmark Government Censorship Case)

“This is broader than a government’s formal takedown requests,” ADF wrote in its letter. “It also includes problematic policies and practices that can be used as a foothold for government actors (whether acting directly or indirectly) and requires transparency on Apple’s apparent support of groups like the Chinese Communist Party.”

Apple has removed apps, including popular Bible and Quran apps, from its Chinese app store at the request of officials.

Last year, the SEC denied similar requests by PayPal and JPMorgan Chase to deny shareholder proposals aimed at ensuring viewpoint diversity.

Policies like Apple’s are “rampant across social media and other tech platforms,” Tedesco said.

“They’re used to censor speech,” he told the DCNF. “There’s just no question about it.”

Apple and the SEC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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