Google privacy trial begins tomorrow in Italy

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Google privacy trial begins tomorrow in Italy

The trial of four Google executives accused of defamation and failure to exercise control over personal data will begin later today in Italy.

The case at the Criminal Court of Milan has been postponed several times since February in order for the judge to consider procedural issues.

The executives are accused of allowing a clip to be posted on Google Video in Italy showing a boy with Down's Syndrome being bullied by four classmates.

European Union legislation states that internet service providers (ISPs) are not responsible for monitoring third-party content on their sites, but must remove such content if they receive complaints.

Google removed the video within 24 hours of receiving two complaints, but Italian prosecutors have argued that the search company is an internet content provider, rather than an ISP, and is therefore in breach of the same Italian law that regulates newspaper and television publishers.

The case follows a two-year investigation by Italian authorities, and the executives face a maximum jail sentence of 36 months if convicted.

The Google executives facing charges are global privacy counsel Peter Fleischer, chief legal officer David Drummond, former chief financial officer George Reyes and former Google Video European director Arvind Desikan.

It is perhaps ironic that it was Fleischer who drove Google's call for global privacy standards back in 2007. "As technology develops, more and more information travels around the world faster and faster each day," Fleischer said in the Google Public Policy Blog at the time.

"Development of this kind increases the productivity of business and consumer transactions, but can potentially endanger privacy protections."

The trial is believed to be the first criminal sanction ever pursued against a privacy professional for his company's actions, and a Google spokesman has described the case as "totally wrong".

"It is akin to prosecuting mail service employees for hate speech letters sent in the post. What's more, seeking to hold neutral platforms liable for content posted on them is a direct attack on a free, open internet. We will continue to vigorously defend our employees in this prosecution," he said.

The spokesman added that Google sympathises with the family at the heart of the case. "We are pleased that, as a result of our co-operation, the bullies in the video have been identified and punished," he said.

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