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Hold The Panic On Italian Google Verdict

Publication Date: 
February 24, 2010
CNet News
Tom Krazit

Julie Ahrens, associate director of the Fair Use Project, is quoted in this article on Italy's ruling against Google for invasion of privacy. Tom Krazit of CNET reports:

Will an Italian court's decision to convict three Google executives of invasion of privacy have widespread effects on the Internet beyond Italian borders?

Google certainly thinks so, but it could take a significant change in thinking around the globe to prove Italy is not an outlier. Three Google executives, including head lawyer David Drummond and Chief Privacy Counsel Peter Fleischer, were convicted of invasion of privacy Wednesday by a court in Milan because a video of students taunting an autistic boy was uploaded to Google Video in 2006. George Reyes, who was chief financial officer but left the company in 2008, was also convicted.

The judge ruled that Google had a duty to make sure the video didn't violate Italian privacy laws before it was displayed on Google Video, and since Italian law allows individual employees of a company to be held liable for the actions of their corporations, the individual executives were subject to trial. The obvious implication of the decision is that Google employees are now personally liable for all the content hosted on its site in Italy, forcing the company to either ban user-generated content from its sites or carefully review each submission.

As with Google's dispute in China over search censorship, the Italian case exposes how difficult it can be for Internet companies to operate on a global basis when laws governing these sectors conflict, said Julie Ahrens, associate director of the Fair-Use Project at Stanford University.


"How do you consistently comply with all the laws?" Stanford's Ahrens said. "Complying with Italian law could be a violation of U.S. law."