Thursday, 25 February 2010

Google executives convicted in Italian trial

News sites, such as the BBC, are reporting on the legal case in Italy which has widespread implications for video posting sites on the Internet. An Italian court has convicted 3 Google executives of breaking Italian law by allowing the video to be posted online showing an autistic teenager being bullied.

The convictions (suspended 6 month sentences) were due to privacy violations, but the ruling has come under widespread criticism and Google has also posted a blog article regarding the decision and the implications for Internet freedom and responsibility. If firms can be held liable for every piece of content on their site they would face an impossible job of policing and vetting everything before publication, particularly where there a large sites that encourage social interaction, such as YouTube and Facebook.

Google says it will vigorously appeal the case. The BBC report says that there is no indication that a similar case could or would be brought in any other European country at the moment. However Italy does seem determined to pursue such cases and similar ones are ongoing against other firms, such as eBay, Yahoo and Facebook.

Richard Thomas, the UK's former information commissioner and consultant to privacy law firm Hunton & Williams, said the case was "ridiculous". He is quoted as saying that "It is like prosecuting the post office for hate mail that is sent in the post. I can't imagine anything similar happening in (the UK). The case wasn't brought by the Italian equivalent of the information commissioner but by criminal prosecutors and we don't know their motives".

However, the verdict is likely to have ramifications for content providers around the world. Google said at the trial that pre-screening all YouTube content was impossible and the video at the centre of the case was posted on Google Video in 2006 shortly before the firm acquired YouTube. Italian prosecutors argued that Google broke Italian privacy law by not seeking the consent of all the parties involved before allowing it to go online, yet Google's lawyers said that the video was removed as soon as it was brought to its attention and that the firm also provided information on who posted it. As a result four students were expelled from their school in Turin, northern Italy.

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