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Italian conviction of Google execs highlights Internet freedom debate

The Italian court conviction of Google executives for allegedly failing to act quickly enough to take down an offensive online video comes after a pledge by the United States to fight for Internet freedoms around the globe.

Google in a blog post after the conviction said it would appeal what it described as an “astonishing decision.”

“In essence this ruling means that employees of hosting platforms like Google Video are criminally responsible for content that users upload,” Matt Sucherman, Google’s vice president and deputy general counsel of Europe, Middle East and Africa wrote in a blog post Tuesday morning.

“But we are deeply troubled by this conviction for another equally important reason. It attacks the very principles of freedom on which the Internet is built,” he added.

In early January, Google threatened to withdraw its businesses from China after an alleged cyber attack on its applications and pressure to censor information from Chinese residents. Google hasn't left its China operations, saying it hopes to work things out with the government. The State Department quickly backed Google’s decision, and in a separate speech Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton announced the administration would fight for all global Internet users to access the content of their choice.

Online censorship has gained more attention after information about protests in Iran leaked onto YouTube and microblogging site Twitter. Turkey has banned YouTube since 2008, after critical videos of Kemal Attaturk, the republic’s founder, surfaced on the site.

The Italian case has brought particular interest because those punished by the Italian court didn’t create the offensive videos in question. In 2006, boys in Turin posted a video of them abusing an autistic boy.

Milan Judge Oscar Magi convicted three of the four Google defendants — David Drummond, Peter Fleischer and George Reyes — for failure to comply with the Italian privacy code. They received a six-month suspended sentence and were absolved of defamation charges. A fourth defendant, charged only with defamation, was acquitted.

By Cecilia Kang  |  February 24, 2010; 10:35 AM ET
Categories:  Google , International , Online Video , Privacy  
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