Italian Court Convicts Google Execs Over Privacy
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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
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An Italian court has convicted three current and former Google executives for privacy violations. These are the first convictions of employees of the world's most popular Internet search engine. And Google says it will appeal. The case could have very real implications for Internet freedom across Europe.
NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports from Rome.
SYLVIA POGGIOLI: The case stems from a 2006 incident, when students at an Italian high school filmed and uploaded a clip to Google's Italian Web site, showing them bullying a schoolmate with Down syndrome. The Google executives were tried in their absence, and the court sentenced them to six months' suspended sentences, but acquitted them of defamation charges.
Mr. BILL ECHIKSON (Spokesman, Google Operations, Southern and Eastern Europe): This is a terrible, astonishing decision.
POGGIOLI: Bill Echikson is a spokesman for Google operations in Southern and Eastern Europe.
Mr. ECHIKSON: It attacks the very principle of freedom on which the Internet is built.
POGGIOLI: Prosecutor Alfredo Robledo said what was at stake was not freedom of expression on the Internet, but the responsibility of companies.
Mr. ALFREDO ROBLEDO (Attorney): (Through Translator) We forcefully raised the principle that the right to do business can never prevail over fundamental human rights. This is the clear sense of this ruling. This is what we had asked for, and we are very satisfied.
POGGIOLI: Google says it took the video down within two hours, after it had been notified by police. But prosecutors argued that it shot up to the top of the most entertaining videos on the Italian site, and had had 5,500 hits and 800 comments during the two months it was online - implying Google should've noticed it sooner.
Thanks to the American company's cooperation, the four bullies were identified and sentenced to community service. According to Google statistics, 20 hours of video are uploaded to its sites every minute, worldwide. Spokesman Echikson says the implications of the Milan ruling would lead to preemptive screening -unfeasible technically and financially.
Mr. ECHIKSON: This sort of regime - where you can post, and then notice and take down regime - allows creativity. It allowed the Web to sort of flourish, as we've seen. If the principle is overrun, then all the sites like Blogger, YouTube, every social network would all be held responsible for vetting every single piece of content that is uploaded to them - every piece of text, every photo, every video. It would mean the Web, as we know it, wouldn't exist.
POGGIOLI: The ruling against Google came just as the Italian government is about to introduce a decree that would give the state control over online video content, the toughest Internet regulations in Europe. Alessandro Gilioli, a journalist and blogger for the magazine L'Espresso, says Italian politicians, particularly on the right, are wary of the Web.
Mr. ALESSANDRO GILIOLI (Journalist, L'Espresso): First of all, they don't know the Internet. And usually, people are afraid of things they don't know. Second reason is that the Internet in Italy is almost the only place where people speak freely. Third reason is that in Italy, we have a prime minister who is the owner of television, and he doesn't like the Internet because the television commercials are going down and the Internet ads are going up.
POGGIOLI: Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi owns the biggest private TV conglomerate in Italy. Google has been hit with a lawsuit for copyright infringement from Berlusconi's company Mediaset, which is seeking nearly $800 million in damages. Adding to its woes, Google is facing a European Union probe following antitrust complaints filed by the rival companies.
Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome.
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