Google on trial over Italian 'defamation' vid

Execs face jail time for Turin teenagers' taunt


The Privacy Trial of the Century is already waving jail time at three current Google execs and its former chief financial officer. And now there's an added complaint against the company itself.

In September 2006, someone posted a three-minute cell-phone video to Google's Italian website in which four Turin teenagers make fun of a classmate with Down's Syndrome. And in July, after two years of investigation, Italian authorities filed criminal charges against four Google execs: chief legal officer David Drummond, chief privacy officer Peter Fleischer, an unnamed London-based video exec and chief financial officer George Reyes, who has since left the company.

The four current and former employees are charged with defamation and failure to exercise control over personal data. "What is at issue is whether or not privacy laws that apply to newspapers or to the radio also apply on the web, or whether it is a sort of free port where anything goes," prosecutor Alfredo Robledo tells the International Herald Tribune. "We are raising the issue to show that there are holes in Italian legislation."

The trial of the Google execs was set to begin today in Milan, but after a short hearing the judge delayed proceeding until February 18, according to a report from the International Association for Privacy Professionals.

During the hearing, the City of Milan filed a complaint against Google itself. An Italian legal mind tells the IAPP that local law allows public entities to file for compensation when a claim involves someone with disabilities.

The video in question showed a 17-year-old with Down's Syndrome as four other 17-year-olds hit him over the head with a box of tissues. It was uploaded on September 8, 2006, and almost a month later, Google received two takedown notices - one from an individual user and one from the Italian Ministry.

The search giant removed the video within a day of receiving the complaints. But Italian authorizes argue that company execs broke the law by allowing the posting in the first place.

Google Privacy Chief Peter Fleischer is expected to appear during the trial. In late January, he flew from his Paris home base to Milan to deliver a speech and when he deplaned he was stopped by local police. Following the speech, he was taken to the public prosecutor to give a deposition.

Google declined to discuss the trial, but provided the following statement: "As we have repeatedly made clear, our hearts go out to the victim and his family. We are pleased that as a result of our cooperation the bullies in the video have been identified and punished. However, we feel that bringing this case to court is totally wrong. It's akin to prosecuting mail service employees for hate speech letters sent in the post. What's more, seeking to hold neutral platforms liable for content posted on them is a direct attack on a free, open internet. We will continue to vigorously defend our employees in this prosecution." ®

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