Google’s chief legal officer David Drummond, global privacy counsel Peter Fleischer, and former chief financial officer George Reyes — he retired in 2008 — were found guilty by a judge in Milan, Italy this morning of invasion of privacy for allowing a 2006 Google Video post that showed a young man with Down’s syndrome being bullied.
A fourth defendant, Google Video exec Arvind Desikan, was cleared of charges. The Italian woman who uploaded the video was previously sentenced to 10 months of community service by a court in Turin.
Judge Oscar Magi absolved the three of defamation charges, but convicted them of invasion of privacy. Despite the Googlers’ protest that the video was pulled down within two hours after Italian police contacted the company, Italian advocacy group Vivi Down and the boy’s mother filed a complaint and pressed charges.
No jail time will be served. All three received suspended sentences.
Google’s deputy general counsel for Europe, Matt Sucherman, authored a post on the Official Google Blog that calls the conviction “a serious threat to the Web.” Sucherman wrote:
This conviction … attacks the very principles of freedom on which the Internet is built. Common sense dictates that only the person who films and uploads a video to a hosting platform could take the steps necessary to protect the privacy and obtain the consent of the people they are filming. European Union law was drafted specifically to give hosting providers a safe harbor from liability so long as they remove illegal content once they are notified of its existence.
“If that principle is swept aside and sites like Blogger, YouTube and indeed every social network and any community bulletin board, are held responsible for vetting every single piece of content that is uploaded to them — every piece of text, every photo, every file, every video — then the Web as we know it will cease to exist.
American law does not hold Internet hosting services liable for content posted by members, although they may be ordered to remove specific items.