Italy vs. the Free Web

Published Date
25 - Feb - 2010
| Last Updated
25 - Feb - 2010
Italy vs. the Free Web

One of the founding principles of the internet, which is freedom of expression, is something which is under threat in Italy.

In a recent case against four Google employees, an Italian Judge had laid the precedent, that a platform such as YouTube, or any other web platform relying on user generated content is liable for content posted on it; even before the platform owners have been informed of the malcontent.

In Google's case, three employees have been prosecuted for a video which was neither created / uploaded or even reviewed by them. The video was taken by students and depicted an autistic school child being bullied. It was online for two months before being removed by Google, within two hours of receiving a complaint from the Italian police.

The Google employees are being sentenced for violating Italian privacy code by not actively reviewing and removing the video, and waiting for the police to issue a complaint instead. While respecting privacy and copyright is certainly a reasonable demand, it is impossible for Google employees to manually filter the estimable 20-hours of video that are uploaded to YouTube each minute. The system best placed to work is such scenarios then is free publication of content, which can then be blocked or removed if a complaint is received.

If a website such as YouTube is required to oversee each piece of content which is uploaded to its service, and faces unlimited liability, then the very operating of such services is at risk. Merely because a telephone can be used to hold unpleasant conversations does not mean that the service needs to be wiretapped and monitored.

It is clear to see that the prosecutors have no idea about how the internet works. Alfredo Robledo, one of the prosecutors justifies, "To say this is about censorship has a big media effect, but is false. This is about finding a balance between free enterprise and the protection of human dignity." 

We would believe that the system of removing illegal content once you have been informed of it is quite a good balance "between free enterprise and the protection of human dignity." According to Mr. Robledo, Google should monitor its content, and should not profit from content which violate privacy laws, which is an idiotic statement at best. If Google is aware of a privacy violation already, then isn't the removal of the video of Google what they just asked for?

When it comes to the internet, Italy is one of the most backwards country in Europe, and the fact that its Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has a stake in preserving traditional media (being the owner of most of the private media) is often cited as a reason for the same.

In this day and age of the internet, it is rather unpleasant to see such a step backwards, a step that can have massive repercussions. Google is quite obviously appealing the decision, and hopefully we will have a saner judgment this time.

Read Google's blog post about this incident.