Quoting from Larger Threat Is Seen in Google Case – NYTimes.com.
ROME — Three Google executives were convicted of violating Italian privacy laws on Wednesday, the first case to hold the company’s executives criminally responsible for the content posted on its system.
In Milan, Judge Oscar Magi sentenced the Google executives in absentia to six-month suspended sentences for violation of privacy. Prosecutors said Google did not act fast enough to remove from the site a widely viewed video posted in 2006 showing a group of teenage boys harassing an autistic boy.
But Judge Magi, who has 90 days to issue his reasoning, cleared the Google executives of defamation charges. The three were Peter Fleischer, chief privacy counsel; David Drummond, senior vice president and chief legal officer; and George Reyes, a former chief financial officer. A fourth defendant, Arvind Desikan, charged only with defamation, was acquitted.
A spokesman for Google, Bill Echikson, called the ruling “astonishing” and said the company would appeal. In its blog, Google added that the ruling “attacks the very principles of freedom on which the Internet is built.”
Prosecutors said Google waited to remove the video until after complaints to the police by Vivi Down, an Italian group representing people with Down syndrome, whose name was mentioned by the boys in the video.
Google said it removed the video within two hours of receiving a formal complaint from the Italian police, two months after the video was first posted.
The boys, all minors, were not charged by prosecutors, but were sentenced by a different judge to community service. Prosecutors named the Google executives because Italian law holds corporate executives responsible for a company’s actions.
Google maintains that the ruling contradicted a European Union directive on electronic commerce that gives service providers safe harbor from liability for the content they host.
But prosecutors argued that because Google handled user data — and used content to generate advertising revenue — it was a content provider, not a service provider, and therefore broke Italian privacy law. It prohibits the use of someone’s personal data with the intent of harming him or making a profit.
The Google ruling comes amid other proposed legislation that would seek to bureaucratize the Internet in Italy, including the highly contested Italian version of a European directive that would compel online broadcasters to seek the same licensing agreements as broadcast television. Google lobbied for changes to the proposal.
Paolo Romani, a deputy communications minister who sponsored the measure, said the issue was copyright protection. “It has nothing to do with the fact that our prime minister also owns television stations,” he said. “It’s in Berlusconi’s interest not to be accused of conflict of interest.”
Another proposal pending in Italy, tucked into a bill on wiretapping, would require blogs to publish corrections within 48 hours, as newspapers are required to do, while a third would make sites responsible for anonymous comments posted on them.