Google on trial in Italy

Should Google have to get consent from a subject before a video is uploaded? That's one of the issues at stake in a lawsuit focused on privacy violations.

Larry Dignan
2 min read

Correction at 11:24 a.m. PST: This post initially misstated the length of the cell phone video at the center of the lawsuit. It was a 191-second video.

Four executives from Google are about to face criminal charges in Italy regarding alleged privacy violations.

The lawsuit, noted by The New York Times' Saul Hansell and the International Association of Privacy Professionals, revolves around a 191-second cell phone video in 2006. In the video, four high school kids tease a boy with Down Syndrome. The video was uploaded to Google's Italian site and quickly removed from the site after complaints.

The executives--David Drummond, Google's chief legal officer; George Reyes, former CFO; Peter Fleischer, global privacy counsel; and an unnamed employee--face charges as prosecutors argue that the video shouldn't have been published.

Should Google have to get consent from a subject before a video is uploaded? Aside from the fact that Google would have an impossible task, I reckon Italy has more important matters to worry about--like debt that's more than 100 percent of GDP.

According to the IAPP's Tracey Bentley:

It is believed to be the first criminal sanction ever pursued against a privacy professional for his company's actions.

Bentley also outlines some of the case details:

Milan public prosecutor Francesco Cajani decided that by allowing the 191-second clip onto its site, Google executives were in breach of Italian penal code.

Peter Fleischer was on his way into the University of Milan for a speaking engagement January 23, 2008 when five law enforcement officials with summonses surrounded him. According to Fleischer, the officers had been waiting for him, but ultimately allowed him to deliver his talk before taking him to a deposition before the public prosecutor.

Cajani is prosecuting Google as an Internet content provider. Unlike Internet service providers, Italian penal code states that Internet content providers are responsible for the third-party content posted to their sites. This is essentially the same law regulating newspaper and television publishers.

Google thinks this prosecutor--Cajani is now a global name--has overstepped.

The trial will go on for months.