Ridiculous Criminal Trial Of Google Execs Begins In Italy

from the bad-news-all-around dept

eWeek has a report noting that the ridiculous criminal trial of four Google executives in Italy is starting this week, with the surprise news that one of the execs in question, Google’s Global Privacy Counsel Peter Fleischer, is expected to appear. The eWeek report oddly credits the news of the trial to the International Association of Privacy Professionals, claiming they broke the story on Monday — but plenty of folks have been covering this story for many months. The only bit of news is that the trial has begun, and that Fleischer made the mistake of traveling to Italy to give a talk at the University of Milan, where he was taken into custody.

The trial, however, makes a mockery of just about any bit of common sense out there — on so many different levels. First of all, as described when the charges were first released, the issue was a video that was uploaded to Google of some kids taunting a disabled boy. The video was up for about two days before Google was made aware of it — at which point it was immediately taken down. So why are random Google execs being tried for criminal charges? I can’t figure it out at all. First, Italy actually does have a law that protects internet service providers from liability for the actions of their users. That’s good… but for some bizarre reason, it doesn’t count Google as a service provider.

Even so, there’s absolutely no fathomable reason for why anyone would think that Google’s execs should be charged with anything. Google, the company, had no proactive role in uploading the videos. The execs in question had absolutely nothing to do with the video at all. Google was actually proactive in removing the video as soon as it became aware of it. And, most ridiculous of all, the video itself was actually useful as evidence to charge the kids who taunted the disabled boy. By charging the Google execs under criminal statutes, all prosecutors are doing is making sure that in the future, no such evidence exists. As we noted when this story first came out, the kids in question apparently hit the disabled boy with a packet of tissues as well. It would seem like the tissue company is much more responsible for what happened than Google. So why aren’t we seeing charges filed against the tissue company execs?

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Comments on “Ridiculous Criminal Trial Of Google Execs Begins In Italy”

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Chuck Norris' Enemy (deceased) says:


The Italian government put this exec in the slammer (custody) over a crime he didn’t even commit. I pray to the high heavens that the judge/jury (I don’t know how it works in Italy) in this case doesn’t find him guilty. If he ends up with prison time, I say Google needs to declare war on Italy. I think the Google army could take them. We don’t need the US Military.

Danny says:


As we noted when this story first came out, the kids in question apparently hit the disabled boy with a packet of tissues as well. It would seem like the tissue company is much more responsible for what happened than Google. So why aren’t we seeing charges filed against the tissue company execs?

I’ll bet because that tissue company isn’t one of the biggest tech companies on the planet and worth a few godzillion dollars.

Anonymous Coward says:

“Ridiculous Criminal Trial Of ….” there aren’t many blogs thatcan boast this sort of expert legal opinion in the laws of any country in the world.

“The trial, however, makes a mockery of just about any bit of common sense out there..” common sense says you probably know sod all about Italian law (and most other nationality of laws).

“So why are random Google execs….” ‘random’ is a label for someting you don’t understand.

“I can’t figure it out at all.” Maybe you should put that at the bottom of all your posts.

Chronno S. Trigger says:

Re: Re:

Maybe you can provide counter evidence that states Italy is correct in their criminal prosecution. Maybe you could even explain why the Italian government had decided to ignore their own safe harbors law. Or maybe why Google’s Global Privacy Counsel (not the guy in charge of Youtube) was arrested and is now charged.

–Not related to the reply
Direct quote from Eweek:

“Italian officials charge Google Global Privacy Counsel Peter Fleischer with criminal charges of defamation and failure to exercise control over personal data two years after Google posted a video depicting fellow students harassing a student with Down syndrome.”

“After Google posted”? Google employs Turin high school teenagers?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

That’s actually an interesting point there, though. What if Google’s being sued because the kids were identifiable? European privacy laws make little to no sense to me as it is, and it would make sense for why they’d charge Google’s Privacy exec.

Also, depending on how you define “Internet service provider,” Google may not qualify, despite providing a service on the Internet.

Hulser says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Also, depending on how you define “Internet service provider,” Google may not qualify, despite providing a service on the Internet.

I don’t know what Mike’s definition of ISP is, but if you were to say that it means an entity which provides a service via the Internet rather than an entity which provides Internet service, then what you’re saying is that anything that uses TCP/IP — including all web sites, chat services, newsgroups, etc — are “ISPs”. But if this were the case, the term ISP would be all but useless. Google is no more and ISP that TechDirt is.

Hulser says:

Re: Re: Re:

“After Google posted”? Google employs Turin high school teenagers?

I had the same question. Google didn’t post anything. Imagine how silly this would sound if the story was about a phone call instead of a video posted on the Internet…

“Italian officials charge AT&T’s Global Privacy Counsel Peter Fleischer with criminal charges of defamation and failure to exercise control over personal data two years after AT&T made a harassing phone call to student with Down syndrome.”

Urza (user link) says:

Re: Re:

Does it matter what he knows about Italian law? If there’s a nation where murder isn’t legal, does that mean we shouldn’t care when people get killed there?

It doesn’t matter what the law is. He’s not saying it’s not legal, he’s saying the law doesn’t make sense. It’s perfectly legal for me to file a lawsuit against AT&T for your comment. It doesn’t make sense though – I don’t know if you use AT&T, I certainly don’t use AT&T, and AT&T didn’t post the comment, you did. And your comment doesn’t contain anything worth suing over. But it’s still perfectly legal for me to try to sue them for it.

Hulser says:

Re: Google

Google is not an ISP

I have to agree here. Google provides content/services via the Internet. They do not provide Internet service therefore they are not an Internet Service Provider.

Here’s a quote from one of the linked articles…
“Unlike Italian Internet service providers, who are not responsible for posted content, content providers like Google can be held liable for delivered materials.”

Whether you agree with the Italian laws or the trial, based on this statement, it seems clear that at least the prosecuters do see a legal difference between an ISP and a content provider. Personally I think the safe harbor laws should apply to both ISPs and content providers, but if the Italian laws make the distinction, I can at least see why the trial is proceding.

SomeGuy says:

Re: Re: Google

I think the safe harbor laws should apply to both ISPs and content providers

I disagree, but I also disagree with the definition of “Internet service provider” and “content provider” here. IANAL, especially not in Italy, so this is only meaningful if you care about my opinion.

Right off the question is whether we’re talking about “Internet service” providers or Internet “service prodiders.” It’s a slight but inportant distinction, because in the first case you’re only talking about companies that provide Internet service (ie, a connection to the web), and in the second you’re talking about anyone who “provides service” on the Internet. Google doesn’t connect me to the web, but it does provide the services of web search and email and video hosting (among others), so I’d call that an Internet service provider. (For what it’s worth, it seems like US law agrees with me.)

A content provider, in my opinion, would instead be something akin to a content creator. In general, nothing that Google serves us (be it in search or on YouTube) are created by Google. Not even the ads they serve up are created by Google (possibly with a few exceptions). In this case, the content providers, the ones who provided content, were the boys in question (or whoever it was that actually posted the video). And when Google was notified that the content they were hosting was offensive, they ceased providing their service.

SomeGuy says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Google

As I said, just my opinion. I disagree that any website necessarily qualifies as a Service provider and, furthermore, that being a service provider in one sense doesn’t mean having immunity across the board. For example, if I were to commit libel in one of the comments here, no one could sue techDirt because they’re providing the service of hosting my comment; I’m providing the content. Contrawise, if they wrote a post which was defamatory they could be sued, because it’s their content being provided.

As I said, IANAL and it’s just my opinion.

Xiera says:

Re: Re: Re: Google

Though the term ‘Internet Service Provider’ is easily misinterpreted (and should probably be renamed for clarity), I am pretty sure it’s understood to refer to companies that “provide Internet service”.

A ‘content provider’ is the one who provides the content for your consumption. This means youtube, google, and techdirt are content providers, even if they do not own the content. The content of this post is provided via techdirt and so techdirt is its ‘content provider’. I may be the owner of the text (actually, I don’t know this, as I haven’t read any of techdirt’s license agreements), but I am not providing you with the content directly.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Google

Unless there’s a legal interpretation I’m not aware of, the type of service they provide is irrelevant. They provide a service (in this case hosting of videos), so section 512 of the DMCA states that they are protected as long as they take relevant action when they are made aware of the offending content.

The reason they’re not protected in this case is that Italian law (AFAIK) doesn’t have safe harbor provisions in the same way as US law.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I agree. Could you imagine the uprising that would occur if YouTube, and Google search were suddenly gone from Italy, and replaced with a banner saying that due to the illegal holding of their executive, all google services are temporarily unavailable in Italy, and then post the personal phone numbers to the judge, prosecutor, and high ranking government officials.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

If this case does go all the way to a jail sentence, I imagine that a lot of internet companies would remove Italian offices, in the same way that a lot of online poker sites pulled out of the US when they started attacking executives. There’s very few online businesses worth going to jail for, especially something you cannot control the legality of while you’re running it.

Jozinger (user link) says:

Stay out of Italy

Just when one thinks it is safe to travel to Italy, now these dolts prove otherwise. Good food, great people and crazy politicians. Now, Italy has gone from a second world nation to a third world nation. Their actions are because of creed and jealousy. Their actions are not different from the African pirates except the pirates are honest.
“Tis a tale told by an idiot. Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”.

Mike Burda says:

Stare Decis

The legal world works much differently than the Tech world. The tech world works quickly and does not always base new decisions on previous decisions.

The legal world makes decisions based on Stare Decis. To be able to determine the extent of the law, it must litigate. At times, this can claim some innocent victims. But the fact is, the legal world does not know if they are guilty or innocent until questions have been litigated.

It is not a perfect system.


Anonymous Coward says:

I agree with the other posts. Google needs to declare war. Google probably has more power than the country of Italy, might as well flex it. Between the huge amounts of investment funds spent on data centers in countries around the world, to the lobby groups, lawyers, and customer base, Google would have very little trouble smothering Italy in pressure. Hell, put a small blurb about the subject on the main page of Google and a link to the email of the judge as well as government websites. That should cripple their web/email systems in about 35 seconds.

SilverSliver99 says:

What will happen

Here’s what will ultimately happen. The guy will get let go but Google will have to pay a fine. Just like what keeps happening to Microsoft. The European nations will just keep fining and suing our larger tech companies for large amounts over small things in order to get free cash.

It will be kind of ironic that Google will get shook down by a country known for the mafia.

Stefano Quintarelli (user link) says:

the case is not that clear

I am the past president of Italy’s ISPs association.

[little excerpt from my blog]
Definition of ISP is very clear and definitely Google is not an ISP. (BTW, it requires registering to the local FCC equivalent).

There is a european law (ecommerce directive) which excludes responsibility for “mere conduits”.

Is YT a “mere conduit” ? this remains to be seen.

the charges are “diffamazione aggravata e di
trattamento illecito di dati a fini di profitto”, sorry, I don’t know a legal translation for this.

the sanction is up to 3 years and up to 1032 Euros (that was 2M lire before switching to Euros)

the offenses contained in the video where aimed at the disbled kid and Google (Youtube) helped increasing its visibility, therefore deriving “editorial responsibilities”, according to the prosecutors. this is in accordance with the forthcoming european Audio Visual Directive.[…]

as I explain in greater detail in my blog, knowing the facts, the case is not that obvious, and Google may well be found having responsbilities, and that could have well happened in Italy or any other european country.

SilverSliver99 says:

This may be somewhat true stefano. But google is a US based company not a European based. In illegal commerce there has to be someone who actually traffics something into and out fo countries. Google does not traffic, the you tube clip is stored in the US on their servers. It is people who actually downloaded/uploaded the movie that moved the information into and out of Italian borders. For example, in the kingdom of Bhutan Tobacco is illegal. If I bring a pack of cigarrettes into there is it my fault or Marlboro’s (Altria) fault that I did? Obviously it’s my fault. I think google is the same scenario.

In my opinion if I was a google exec I would ignore the court someones, and send them a postcard with my middle finger. I would also ignore any fines imposed. There’s no way the US is going to let Italy extradite anyone. I wouldn’t even take the risk of being imprisoned over this BS.

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