Published in News
Italian courts go after Google execs and lawyer
by David Stellmack on03 February 2009
Criminal charges brought
Three Google executives and Google’s Global Privacy counsel will get their day in court today in Milan, Italy after being charged with failure to exercise control over personal data and defamation of character on the Google site.
The charges are based on a video that was posted to Google’s Italian Web site in September 2006 that showed several boys in Turin, Italy harassing and bullying a classmate with Down Syndrome. If convicted of all criminal charges, the Google crew could be sentenced up to 36 months each.
What is ironic about the charges against the lawyer being prosecuted is that he is a privacy legal specialist. The International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP) has described the charges brought against him as the first criminal sanction against a privacy professional based on actions by his company. Google claims that the video was posted in sympathy for the victim and his family and that it was published as a result of Google's co-operation that the "bullies in the video have been identified and punished." Google has vowed that it will “vigorously defend” its employees in the proceedings.
A Google spokeswoman has said that the Italians were "totally wrong" in bringing the case to court. Google’s position is that the company is not responsible for the third-party content posted and that it is merely a neutral platform where the content was posted. "It's akin to prosecuting mail service employees for hate speech letters sent in the post," the spokeswoman said in an e-mail. "Seeking to hold neutral platforms liable for content posted on them is a direct attack on a free, open Internet."
Under EU law Internet service providers are not responsible for third-party content on their Web sites, but they are required to remove content considered offensive if a complaint is made about it. Google did log two complaints about the video, one from the Italian Interior Ministry, and Google pulled the 3-minute video within 24 hours after receiving the requests. Apparently that wasn’t enough for Milan’s public prosecutor, Francesco Cajani, who claimed that Google's executives were in breach of Italy’s penal code. The prosecutor is treating Google as an Internet content provider, which under Italian law is considered responsible for third party content on its site.
The actual motivation for the prosecution and what is to gained are unknown, but the IAPP has predicted that the case could drag on for months in the Italian courts.