Google's Global Privacy Counsel Peter Fleischer is facing Italian criminal charges for Google's posting of a video showing four Turin high school teenagers harassing a Down syndrome student. The charges are thought to be the first criminal sanction ever pursued against a privacy professional for his company's actions, according to the International Association of Privacy Professionals.
Fleischer is expected to appear Feb. 3 before the Criminal Court of Milan. If convicted, Fleischer faces a minimum of three years in prison.
The IAPP, which first broke the story Feb. 2, said Italian Internet service providers are not responsible third-party content, but they must remove objectionable material if complaints are received. Content providers such as Google, however, are responsible for all posted content.
"The video that sparked the investigation was captured in a Turin classroom. Four high school boys were recorded taunting a young man with Down syndrome, ultimately hitting the 17-year-old with a tissue box," wrote the IAPP. "One of the boys uploaded the footage to Google Video's Italian site on Sept. 8, 2006."
Google issued a statement late Feb. 2 stressing the company's sympathy for the victim and his family, but insisted, "We feel that bringing this case to court is totally wrong. It's 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."
Complaints about the video were not received until Nov. 6 and 7, 2006. Google removed the video on Nov. 7, 2006. The case prompted a two-year investigation that ultimately led to the charges against Fleischer and three other company officials. Milan public prosecutor Francesco Cajani said that by simply allowing the 191-second video on its site, Google faced criminal liability.
According to IAPP, Fleischer, who is based in Paris, was in Italy Jan. 23 to deliver a speech at the University of Milan when he was surrounded by five Italian law enforcement officials. After his speech, Fleischer was escorted to the public prosecutor to give his deposition in the case.
"We cannot agree with the concept that a tool can be blamed for the use that is made of it," a Google spokesperson told IAPP.