International companies and the Computer & Communications Industry Association will be watching Tuesday as a privacy violation trial begins in Italy. A judge decided earlier this year to allow a court case against several Google executives who could face up to three years in prison over a YouTube video.

The video showed a student with Down syndrome being harassed by several other students. Google took down the video within a few hours after being notified by police and then helped authorities track down those responsible for it. Even so, executives of the company are still facing criminal penalties in a case that could set legal precedent impacting many different international companies.

The case has led some to demand that the thousands of online videos posted each day should somehow be previewed and censored, while first amendment and democracy advocates have argued that would set a dangerous precedent.

The following statement can be attributed to CCIA President and CEO Ed Black:

“The video is bullying at its worst. Hate speech like this is appalling and harmful to society, but using criminal sanctions unfairly against peripheral “non actors” is damaging to society in a different way. The Google employees should not be held liable for this content any more than a mail carrier should be for delivering a similar video via snail mail.

“If we try hold a neutral Internet platform liable for content others post, it may reduce hate speech, but it would definitely have a chilling effect on all other speech including the political dialogue that any democracy needs.

“This case could set a terrible precedent for thousands of legitimate companies and all those who depend on the Internet for news and communication. Criminally punishing employees of companies, whose main purpose is legitimately facilitating the open flow of information, would be an unjust, expansive use of criminal law.”

 

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