Google executives facing jail in Italy over a video

Read that headline again. It boggles the mind, yet according to multiple news reports this morning it is absolutely true: Italian prosecutors as I type are trying four Google executives over their roles -- which were non-existent -- in the posting of a video that depicted cruelty toward a disabled child.

From an IDG News Service story:

In what is believed to be the first instance of a privacy executive being held accountable for his firm's actions, Google's global privacy counsel is scheduled to appear before a criminal court in Milan, Italy, on Tuesday on charges of defamation and failure to exercise control over personal data.

Peter Fleischer and three other Google executives face criminal charges in Italy over the posting of a video showing a disabled teen being harassed by peers. They face up to a maximum of 36 months if convicted on the charges.

"It's akin to prosecuting mail service employees for hate speech letters sent in the post," a Google 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."

As might be expected, the matter has caught the attention of the International Association of Privacy Professionals, which notes:

According to Google, more than 200,000 videos are uploaded to Google Video each day. Under EU legislation incorporated into Italian law in 2003, Internet service providers are not responsible for monitoring third-party content on their sites, but are required to remove content considered offensive if they receive a complaint about it. Between November 6 and 7, 2006, Google received two separate requests for the removal of the video-one from a user, and one from the Italian Interior Ministry, the authority responsible for investigating Internet-related crimes. Google removed the video on November 7, 2006, within 24 hours of receiving the requests.

Yet four mention sit in an Italian courtroom with their very liberty on the line. Mind-boggling.

Of course, it's somewhat difficult for this American to muster too much indignation over the notion of local authorities exercising egregiously excessive control over an Internet that they do not control. We've had our fair share here, what with -- to cite but two examples -- the state of Kentucky seizing domain names and the governor of Massachusetts threatening to jail online poker players (I've never believed he was serious).

Italian authorities appear to be serious. I mean a trial -- a trial -- is happening right this minute. 

(Update: This story quotes Italian officials attempting to explain that which cannot be explained. Also quoted in support of the legal action, unfortunately, is an advocate for children with Down syndrome ... and I say unfortunately as the father of an autistic 7-year-old boy. I will take a back seat to no one in their outrage at those who would torment a disabled child, but that is not the primary  point here.)

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