Italian Court Convicts Google Execs

An Italian court has flown in the face of the convention by convicting four Google executives – including Peter Fleischer, Google’s Global Privacy Counsel – over a YouTube video that showed the bullying of a vulnerable boy.

In 2006 a video was posted by a user showing the autistic boy being assaulted by classmates. Google received two complaints from Italian authorities, within 24 hours had removed the content from the site, and thereafter assisted an investigation to try to identify the culprits. This action complied with both the law and convention over ISP responsibilities for user-generated content. However, Italian authorities were not satisfied, and when Fleischer visited Italy to address a conference, he found himself bundled in front of a prosecutor and charged with a breach of Italian penal code. Fleischer and three colleagues have now been convicted and given six-month suspended sentences, which they intend to appeal.

The case has disturbing implications for ISPs, since if they are to be held liable for all user-generated content, then they will effectively be driven out of Italy because of the impossibility of managing that content. Whilst the original incident is clearly distressing and all such user-generated postings must be investigated as soon as they are posted, it’s clearly not reasonable to expect an ISP to review all user-generated content on its sites. For once Google is likely to find support from liberties groups, and I very much hope that this daft ruling is overturned on appeal.