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A SWAT for trying to impose values from afar

Submitted by on Thursday, 25 February 2010 No Comment

What’s worse than a YouTube video showing a developmentally disabled boy being bullied?

A court verdict in Italy that finds Google executives guilty of invasion of privacy because the video was posted to begin with – even though the video was removed within hours after it was reported to Google and even though Google officials helped authorities find the bullies.

Even officials in England – where higher officials have tried to make surfing the Net as rough and tumble as an episode of “Sesame Street” – are stunned at the decision.

“It is like prosecuting the post office for hate mail that is sent in the post,” former British information commissioner Richard Thomas told BBC News.

Actually, it’s worse. It’s like prosecuting the U.S. Postal Service for packages being mailed to another country. The Google execs – all Americans – were tried in absentia in Italy.

The prosecutors claimed that Google invaded privacy because it failed to seek permission of everyone in the video before it was posted. Because Google makes money from ads on YouTube, Italian officials declared it a “content provider” and not merely a tool for users. That means that Google is legally responsible for all videos appearing on YouTube, the illogical logic continued.

While there’s probably more to the case than meets the eye – like, maybe a power grab by an Italian prime minister who wants to make sure the media remain under his control – just what’s on the surface is enough to chill anyone who believes in free speech and an open Internet.

It’s hard to tell, but the video might not have even been an invasion of privacy under laws in America. If it had been taken in a public place, it likely would have been perfectly legal here.

What if an American blogger called the Italian prime minister a big fat doo-doo head? That statement would be legal in the United States, where truth is an absolute defense against libel, but would it be defamation in Italy? Would the blogger be prosecuted?

And what if people in Italy decided they’d had enough of government meddling and held a protest. Would the video need to be pulled from YouTube if its producers didn’t have permission of everyone present?

Yes, bullying a developmentally disabled teen is repugnant. But what if the video had been posted by an advocacy group trying to expose such bullying and call others to action against it?

The notion that any content provider – if indeed YouTube is a content provider – should vet every posting is ludicrous. In theory, it’s possible with a boatload of personnel, a considerable lag in posting time and elimination of the ability to respond to events as they happen. In reality, making that happen would dumb down the Internet to the lowest common denominator, giving the green light to the vapid and rejecting anything that might be in the slightest controversial.

Italian prosecutors need to Stop Wasting America’s Time and keep their noses out of the Net. It’s the WORLD Wide Web. One country’s control freak standards shouldn’t apply.

Copyright 2010 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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