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Google staffers convicted over a bullying video uploaded by an Italian schoolgirl

An Italian judge has convicted 4 Google employees of criminal defamation over a bullying video that was uploaded to Google Video by a school girl from Turin.

According to Matt Sucherman Google's VP and Deputy General Counsel - Europe, Middle East and Africa, "In late 2006, students at a school in Turin, Italy filmed and then uploaded a video to Google Video that showed them bullying an autistic schoolmate. The video was totally reprehensible and we took it down within hours of being notified by the Italian police. We also worked with the local police to help identify the person responsible for uploading it and she was subsequently sentenced to 10 months community service by a court in Turin, as were several other classmates who were also involved.

"But in this instance, a public prosecutor in Milan decided to indict four Google employees '”David Drummond, Arvind Desikan, Peter Fleischer and George Reyes (who left the company in 2008). The charges brought against them were criminal defamation and a failure to comply with the Italian privacy code. To be clear, none of the four Googlers charged had anything to do with this video. They did not appear in it, film it, upload it or review it. None of them know the people involved or were even aware of the video's existence until after it was removed.

Two of the convicted Google staffers have responded with personal statements.

Personal statement by David Drummond - SVP, Corporate Development and Chief Legal Officer, Google

"I am outraged by the decision of the court of Milan today finding that I  am criminally responsible for violating the privacy rights of an autistic school boy who was harassed and bullied by several of his classmates.   I was deeply saddened when I learned that a video of these events was hosted on a Google service.

"This verdict sets a dangerous precedent. If individuals like myself and my Google colleagues who had nothing to do with the harassing incident, its filming or its uploading onto Google Video can be held criminally liable solely by virtue of our positions at Google every employee of any internet hosting service faces similar liability. Clear law in the European Union and in Italy recognizes that internet hosting providers like Google are not required to monitor content that they host. Once Google learned of the offending video it removed it consistent with its responsibilities under these laws. 

"The ruling of the court in Milan poses a grave danger to the continued freedom and operation of the many internet services that users around the world including many Italians have come to rely on in their day to day affairs. It imperils the powerful tool that an open and free Internet has become for social advocacy and change. These values are important to me personally and to Google and we will continue in our efforts to defend them. I am reviewing all available options to challenge this dangerous precedent.'

A personal statement from Peter Fleisher is on the next page.


Personal statement of Peter Fleischer - Privacy Counsel, Google

"I will vigorously appeal this verdict. The judge has decided I am criminally responsible for the actions of some Italian teenagers who uploaded a reprehensible video to Google Video. I knew nothing about the video until after it was removed by Google in compliance with European and Italian law. I was very saddened by the plight of the boy in the video, not least as I have devoted my professional life to preserving and protecting personal privacy rights. Despite this a public prosecutor in Milan has spent 3 years investigating, indicting and successfully prosecuting me and 2 other Google colleagues.

"This ruling also sets a very dangerous precedent.  If company employees like me can be held criminally liable for any video on a hosting platform, when they had absolutely nothing to do with the video in question, then our liability is unlimited. The decision today therefore raises broader questions like the continued operation of many Internet platforms that are the essential foundations of freedom of expression in the digital age.  I recognize that I am just a pawn in a larger battle of forces, but I remain confident that today's ruling will be over-turned on appeal.'

Deputy General Counsel Sucherman continues, "we are deeply troubled by this conviction for another equally important reason. It attacks the very principles of freedom on which the Internet is built. Common sense dictates that only the person who films and uploads a video to a hosting platform could take the steps necessary to protect the privacy and obtain the consent of the people they are filming. European Union law was drafted specifically to give hosting providers a safe harbor from liability so long as they remove illegal content once they are notified of its existence.

"The belief, rightly in our opinion, was that a notice and take down regime of this kind would help creativity flourish and support free speech while protecting personal privacy. If that principle is swept aside and sites like Blogger, YouTube and indeed every social network and any community bulletin board, are held responsible for vetting every single piece of content that is uploaded to them - every piece of text, every photo, every file, every video - 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.

"These are important points of principle, which is why we and our employees will vigorously appeal this decision.'

This is craziness in the extreme.  iTWire will follow developments with great interest.

 

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