Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Serious threat to the web in Italy

(cross-posted from the Official Google Blog)

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. In these rare but unpleasant cases, that's where our involvement would normally end.

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.

Nevertheless, a judge in Milan today convicted 3 of the 4 defendants — David Drummond, Peter Fleischer and George Reyes — for failure to comply with the Italian privacy code. All 4 were found not guilty of criminal defamation. In essence this ruling means that employees of hosting platforms like Google Video are criminally responsible for content that users upload. We will appeal this astonishing decision because the Google employees on trial had nothing to do with the video in question. Throughout this long process, they have displayed admirable grace and fortitude. It is outrageous that they have been subjected to a trial at all.

But 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.


Marco "Op[S]8086" Siino said...

I'm italian guy, and i definitely agree with Google.

In Italy the law, and many (MANY!) other things works bad (or doesn't work at all).

Ignorant people make laws, and ignorant people, often, judge people.... Ignorant at least from the web/technology point of view.

The politicians are often old people, who don't known NOTHING about computer....and the laws are so old that can't be applied to the innovation.

I see in italy bad things every day, and i'm tired about this situation.

I'm sorry for the Google executives that has been convicted, and i'm sorry...but i've to say once again that i'm appaled to be italian.

Marco Siino

GeorgeMuammar-WFP said...

Italian justice is a joke, just as you are showing in your blog, however I would expect Google to have better "common sense" than what you state in the 4th paragraph.

Are you really suprised that someone is capable of filming any sort of abuse and uploading it without the consent of those in the film?

What was filmed was the harsh disgusting reality of life. It should not have been published on a public website just as it should not have happened at all.

Whoever made it possible that such a video was published to the public on such a popular website without any form of screening and allowing the user to think that they can manage to do so anonymously was "somehow" responsible. Common sense says that they did not see the video or have anything to do with it.

With this I am not agreeing with the court of Turin. I am just showing that their position may be justifiable.

Marco "Op[S]8086" Siino said...

The problem is that in a community like Youtube, or any other big public site, is impossible to screen each user "post" (for post i mean a video, an thread, or anything else posted by users).

This is the nature of internet as we know it. Screening all the posts before publishing it means another thing that is not internet.

So, i think that the better thing, actually, is to let community report any post that violates some law or some ethic, so the provider can remove it as soon as possible, like google did.

In future maybe there could be a technology that, through advanced artificial intelligence, lets providers automatically filter any non-ethic post from the others...

Maarten said...

Pre-screening would be a major threat as well.
The internet is public space and in public space/real life (isn't the internet real?), you can technically say anything that pops to your mind. But like in real life, if what you say is against the law, you can (and will, if the law is enforced) be punished.

Do you live with an attourney at your side and consult him with every word you want to say?
Would everyone who did not gag another before breaking the law by speech, be responsible for what that other person said? Because by not gagging him, you enable him to say his law-breaking words...

This sounds like repression.
I never liked the Italian mob who calls themselves politicians, but this is just plain evil, short sighted, ignorant, ...

I hope the EP will take action...

alexanderpas said...

Wait... What?? Cleared of defamation, but convicted for privacy-breach... Does NOT make sense AT ALL.

Also, if it wasn't Italy, there wasn't a problem at all, due to the understanding of the safe-habour principals from the rest of europe.

Well, at least, if it doesn't wor out in Italy, they can always go to the europe central courts.

Dumitru said...

This is ridiculous!

so to you the solution is to gag everyone and have a policemen checking what everyone says, writes, draws or taking picture of?

The web grew the way it did because of user generated content. It will just die!!!

Ian M. said...

Google Video is not based in Italy and if Italy doesn't want it's citizens watching or posting to Google Video then it is their responsibility to restrict or block access to that website.

Even the Chinese put up their own great firewall they don't require the West to block free speech for them.

This is like asking an international postal service to screen all the mail it delivers for objectionable content before delivery rather than waiting for a complaint.

Renato said...

It's ridiculous and reppresents exactly what happens when old-generation mentality rules a country in the 21st century.
I live in Rome and work as an independent WEb Designer and Linux System Administrator.

Internet is being seen by our political as a threat instead than what it is: a tool. It's a threat for copyrighted content, a threat for protected classes such as journalists, for mainstream controlled TV channels... this is because for the first time there is a communication channel that is open 24h a day,7 days a week that is absolutely not under their control.

Some politician have gone as far as to blame facebook for allowing any group to be created thus allowing groups to be a nest for violence against the prime minister and fueling the statue-attack on him....

Ridiculous, in another country the principal of the school where the abuse took place would have been fired and would have been charged for not doing his job (supervise the school).
And the minister of the interior would have had AT LEAST to ask the nation sorry for not being able to protect from a citizen it's elected rappresentative.

WE are a joke as a country... and this brings shame on all of us italians.

Marco "Op[S]8086" Siino said...

Agree with Renato. Here in Italy politicians are afraid of the Internet... as you know, they tried in many ways to make laws to restrict internet access..., to censor it, etc... And occasionally we listen about some law proposals by some politicians about ridiculous things to restrict internet....

an example is the law that someone proposed about the impossibility to have and manage a blog if you is not a real news organization (with all derived tax obbligations, etc...), so with this law they wanted to restrict the free speech to all "normal" guys, so they can have control over the news organization and control the news they publish in their blogs....

Yes... it's a shame for all us.

Dom said...

French governement is firmly heading towards a similar law, named LOPPSI, copy-pasted from ACTA "negociations".

It really seems that the rulers of this world are feeling that w the people have played enough with the Internet, and that now is the time to reshape it as a "real" entertainment/control tool...

Read for fresh news on the french front.

It can sounds weird, but only ISP and firms like Google can stop this from happening, by make their voice heard loud and clear...
Megacorps please save free speech ;) ...

GeorgeMuammar-WFP said...

Posting a video of an autistic child being abused is nothing to do with free speech. What if it was you or your son, whose side would you be on?

Google's activities may be tagged as free speech, but may also be tagged as big business. Their revenues are astronomical, and thanks mainly to content posted by the public. Is it fine to take the profit but to shed responsibility when things go wrong ?

PS I am not defending the Italian legal system, but I am calling for responsabilities to be taken by those who take the profit.

בנימין said...

do you have the full text of the verdict?