February 26, 2010

Italy vs Google

Bad news, as you probably already know, from the front line of Italy’s contemporary fight for freedom: three Google executives, charged with defamation and invasion of privacy, were convicted by the court of Milan for failing to prevent publication on the search engine of a video that showed a boy with Down’s syndrome being bullied by four students at a Turin school. The video was posted in 2006 on Google Video, a now-defunct service that Google ran before it bought YouTube.

The news is very shocking. First of all in itself, and secondarily because this is the first criminal action taken in Italy or elsewhere against Google managers for the publication of content on the web.

The significance of judge Oscar Magi’s ruling, according to assistant public prosecutor Alfredo Robledo, who was acting for the prosecution with public prosecutor Francesco Cajani, is that “The right to conduct business cannot prevail over the dignity of the person.” “At last, a clear word has been spoken. At the heart of this trial was protection of the individual through protection of privacy. Everything else is beside the point. I am confident that this ruling will go out from the court of Milan and finally provoke discussion on an issue that is fundamental,” Robledo added.

So they seem to want to basically “educate” someone about something. “Strike one to educate one hundred,” as the old Leninist motto goes? Nah, even though many Italian judges and prosecutors, especially in Milan, are left-leaning and with a communist background, this is not the case—educating is one of the tasks of Justice, after all. But one might be tempted to argue that perhaps the ones who need to be educated are the prosecutors and the judges. Why? Let’s call Google’s spokesman to speak:

“It is an attack on the fundamental principles of freedom on which Internet is built”, said Google’s spokesman, Marco Pancini. He added that it would be appealing “against a decision that we view as surprising, to say the least, since our colleagues had nothing to do with the video in question. They did not film it, they did not upload it and they did not see it”. According to Mr Pancini, the three executives have been held “penally responsible for illegal activities committed by third parties”. He said that during the proceedings, the three executives “had shown courage and dignity, since the very fact that they were put on trial is excessive”. Throughout the trial, Google has maintained that responsibility lies with whoever uploads a video to the web. For Mr Pancini, “if this principle is abandoned, there is no possibility of offering services on internet.”

In fact, the concept is very simple and straightforward: if we don’t accept the principle that responsibility lies with those who upload a video “there is no possibility of offering services on internet.” Therefore, the ruling by the judge, Oscar Magi, means that YouTube—along with the many websites and hosting platforms which offer user-generated content—cannot continue to do what it has always done. It’s totally, absolutely absurd. Imagine if every Facebook user, as well as every blog owner, could be hauled before a judge for comments, videos and pics left on their pages/blogs by other users! We had better give up blogging, facebooking and twittering as soon as possible…—Ok, comments here are moderated and need my approval before posting, but I can afford it because of the size of my blog, but what about if I were to face 500 to 1,000 comments per posts?

Needless to say, the video was disgusting. But, the criminals here were the ones who committed the assault and filmed and posted it, and they have been brought to justice already, not Google. Google, in turn, had taken the clip down within hours of being notified of it by Italian police, and that’s why it has nothing to be blamed for, unless you think that a failure of clairvoyance and an inability to time-travel have to be included in the category of crimes.

Yet, Luca Sofri, the author of one of Italy’s most popular blogs (no comments allowed …), says that Google and other Web-sharing platforms have a responsibility for what’s posted on their sites: “As Spider-Man says, ‘With great power comes great responsibility.’ Allowing freedom of opinion does not mean you can be a platform for people to defame others or violate their privacy.” Well, it must be said that Luca is almost as lefty as the judges and prosecutors of Milan. But he partially redeems himself by adding that he suspects that the sentence may also be seen as an example of how out of touch Italian political leaders and magistrates are with the massive changes in the way information circulates online: “They are judging the Internet with the same instruments of the past. The Web creates situations that are completely new and don’t have paragons with the world before. If these incidents are happening all over the world and Italy is the only country to condemn Google for it, maybe there’s something we haven’t understood.”

This Iranian regime is worse than the Shah’s

Don’t miss this interview with the 73-year-old Iranian cleric and politician Mehdi Karroubi (Chairman of the parliament from 1989 to 1992 and 2000 to 2004, and a presidential candidate in the 2005 and 2009 presidential elections).

A disciple of Khomeini—since the age of 24 he fought at his side against the Shah—and one of Iran’s opposition Green Movement leaders, he now says that

[t]he Shah’s regime was corrupt at its core, but he didn’t behave like this with the people. What do the armed forces have to do with the election’s results? Why did they treat the people like this on the 22nd of Bahman (in the Persian calendar it corresponds to February 11 ed.)? During the reign of the Shah there were rules; they did not take the people arrested to the mosque to beat them to death even before they appeared in front of the judiciary. These people make arrests without a warrant, beat them and keep them in detention. Not to mention the rest (Karroubi has denounced the rape of the protesters after their arrest, ed.)

Go read the rest, it's worth your time.