Italy Criminally Charges Google

The Times reports:

Google is to face criminal charges in Italy over a video which appeared on one of its sites showing a disabled teenager being taunted by his peers.

Italian prosecutors have indicated that they will press charges against four Google executives over a video which was posted on one of the search giant’s Italian sites in 2006, which showed four youths making fun of a disabled teenager in a classroom in the northern city of Turin.

Magistrates who have recently ended a two-year investigation into the incident claim that the airing of the 191-second clip, which showed the youths making fun of the teenager before hitting him over the head with a box of tissues, amounted to a breach of privacy and was defamatory.

Apparently, Google cooperated fully with the investigation and “the video was removed from the site in question within hours of administrators being notified of its existence in September, 2006.”

Google should not be held responsible for its users’ videos. In the United States, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (a great section in an otherwise bad bill) limits the liability of websites and ISPs for what their users do. Apparently, there is a European equivalent too. Google argues that “under EU legislation – which has been incorporated into Italian law – Google isn’t required to monitor third-party content on its sites. It must only take down offending content when it is notified.”

These laws make sense because expression online would be massively stifled if anyone that transmits or hosts bits could be liable for them. Websites and ISPs would have to severely restrict the sorts of content that people could post, access, or use. The internet would cease being a medium for free expression and start being a conduit that businesses police heavily… because the government forces them to. Criminal charges are especially egregious.

All of this just lends further credence to a point I made earlier: that governments are “really the biggest threat to net neutrality principles.”