Three Google executives found guilty over Italian video

Friday, February 26, 2010

Google Headquarters, Mountain View, California
Image: Brion Vibber.

An Italian court convicted three Google Inc. executives Wednesday of criminal charges for breach of privacy. David Drummond, Google's chief legal officer, Peter Fleischer, its global privacy counsel, and George Reyes, a former executive, were given six-month suspended prison sentences after being found guilty of violating the Italian privacy code.

The Google executives were convicted for not removing a video uploaded to Google Video in 2006, showing an autistic boy in Turin being beaten and insulted by teenage bullies at school. The video was up for two months, during which it was viewed 5,500 times. Google Italy pulled it down two hours after being notified by police, following complaints by the boy's father and Vivi Down, an Italian organization representing individuals with Down syndrome. The uploader and several of her classemates were sentenced to ten months community service by a Turin court.

Prosecutor Alfredo Robledo told the Associated Press that the decision puts the rights of individuals ahead of those of businesses. "This is the big principal [sic] affirmed by this verdict. It is fundamental, because identity is a primary good. If we give that up, anything can happen, and that is not OK", he stated.

Vivi Down said it was satisfied with the verdict and maintained that their aim was not to censure freedom of expression but to obtain a judgment on fundamental right to privacy.

It [the verdict] attacks the very principles of freedom on which the internet is built.

—Matt Sucherman, Google

Matt Sucherman, Google Vice President and Deputy General Counsel for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, said that "[the verdict] attacks the very principles of freedom on which the internet is built." He continued that under European law, video-sharing sites are protected from liability for the content of material posted. "If that principle is swept aside and sites [...] are held responsible for vetting every single piece of content that is uploaded to them [...] then the Web as we know it will cease to exist, and many of the economic, social, political and technological benefits it brings could disappear." He said Google will appeal the decision.

Guilty or Not Guilty?

Danny O'Brien, international outreach coordinator for the Electronic Frontier Foundation of San Francisco (an international non-profit digital rights advocacy group), described the decision as a "threat". "If intermediaries like Google or the person who hosts your Web site can be thrown in jail in any country for the acts of other people and suddenly have a legal obligation to prescreen everything anyone says on their Web site before putting it online, the tools for free speech that everyone uses on the Net would grind to a halt", he said.