A decision today in Italy to hold three Google executives criminally responsible for the content of on-line video sets an usual precedent that challenges freedom on the Internet and even access. Even though the judge gave the executives a suspended sentence in the privacy violation case, he ruled the executives should be held criminally responsible for the content of a YouTube video posted by teenagers, which showed them harassing an autistic student.
The Computer & Communications Industry Association warned Wednesday the case could set a terrible precedent and makes about as much sense as holding postal service truck driver responsible for what is inside an envelope they deliver.
The following comments on this case can be attributed to Ed Black, CCIA President and CEO:
“This decision reflects an astonishing lack of understanding about how the Internet works and an insensitivity to how important it is to keep the Internet open and free from misguided censorship efforts. It also reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the European E-Commerce Directive. Properly interpreted, it should protect Google employees and other similarly innocent employees of other Internet companies — especially when they respond rapidly to deal with objectionable content, as Google did in this case. We hope and expect the appellate process will correct this grave error because it is wrong and harmful to all involved. Otherwise, if Italian law requires the impossible from Internet companies in Europe, there will be no Internet companies in Europe.
“Seeking to hold neutral Internet platforms liable for content posted by others, is a dangerous threat to a free, open Internet. Using criminal law on steroids to respond to the deplorable actions of several teenagers, puts at risk the Internet platform that can do so much good by providing people knowledge about their world, a better opportunity to participate in government and even to criticize it. We’re deeply concerned by that broader human rights battle here. Freedom of expression, no matter what the medium, has historically raised issues of handling terrible output, but that’s an issue covered by existing laws in ways that target bad actors without a chilling effect on speech.
“Billions of people access the Internet, and can send billions of comments, pictures and other diverse content over the net or post them to a site. There will be times when posted material — whether music, pictures or simple speech — is distasteful to many, even abhorrent to some. However, imposing massive liability, civil or criminal, on those who simply facilitate interaction by those billions of users is to move to a level of censorship that is dangerous for a free society.
“The U.S. government, other nations that value freedom of expression and multinational firms operating in Europe need to express their concern and outrage over this unjustified, expansionist use of criminal law.”