Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Italian Courts Mug Free Speech in Google Case

When I was in junior high school, I had a particularly acute case of "commietemia", an infatuation with communism. I don't know how my parents put up with it. I had posters of Che Guevara, Lenin and the whole pantheon of commie heroes. The cure involved an honest look at the Berlin Wall and the Cambodian genocide. The beauty of "commietemia" is that it leaves you with a skepticism, an immunity to political and religious folly of all stripes. Whenever I encounter a new political ideology or philosophy, I am always mildly feverish for a few hours or days, until I start to pick the new "ism" apart in my mind.

Back in those days, you had to get on the subway or bus to broaden your search. I found "History Will Absolve Me." by Fidel Castro in the pub;ic library. It was the speech he gave as a young lawyer defending himselves and his comrades after the attack on the Moncada Barracks in 1953, which was the opening battle of the Cuban Revolution. It is a backhanded tribute to Castro's nemesis, Fulgencio Batista that Castro's speech became public and that Castro and his buddies only did 5 years in Cuban prisons. Perhaps if Batista had been tougher, the Cuban people might have been spared 5 decades of collective misery.

Then there was the communist bookstores as well as the general news stands. I used to get "Granma" English edition. Granma is the Cuban Communist Party newspaper named after the yacht on which Castro and his revolutionary buddies sailed back to Cuba from Mexico. There was the Pyongyang Times and the Vietnam Courier from North Vietnam, which was printed on thin airmail paper that I used to roll cigarettes. The Vietnam Courier used to feature a roundup of photographs of all the anti war demonstrations around America and the world. The recurring theme of the photos was the "solidarity of the American people with the people of Vietnam".

To print an underground newspaper, you had to find a sympathetic teacher with a mimeograph machine, or go to a xerox shop. It was a lot of work. You had to cultivate resourcefulness and friendships to get the access you wanted. My efforts were low tech flops. I was a hard line Trotskyist, and not that good at building alliances based on a single issue.

Today, if I were a budding commie, I could google all my searches. On the plus side, I would never have come up against brick walls in finding books. On the downside, I wouldn't have the anti communist sites and articles cropping up in search queries as well. I would never have had that delicious, monosodium glutamate laden Chinese food for 99 cents, or those monster pretzels that they sold in Boston from push carts.

Instead of publishing an underground newspaper, I would have a blog. My potential reach would include the entire world. I could revel in hits from Mongolia and Iran. On the down side would be cyber bullying. Instead of just getting beaten up in the halls at school, the kids would have been able to pillory me on line.

In today's news is an article about three Google executives who were sentenced to suspended terms of imprisonment for not yanking a video from You Tube which featured a developmentally disabled boy being bullied in Turin, Italy. Although none were actually sentenced to prison, the verdict paves the legal way for prison sentences in similar future cases. Associated Press reports as follows.

An Italian court convicted three Google executives of privacy violations Wednesday because they did not act quickly enough to pull down an video online that showed bullies abusing an autistic boy.

The case was being closely watched around the world due to its implications for Internet freedom.

In the first such criminal trial of its kind, Judge Oscar Magi sentenced the three to a six-month suspended sentence and absolved them of defamation charges. A fourth defendant, charged only with defamation, was acquitted.

Google called the decision "astonishing" and said it would appeal.

"The judge has decided I'm primarily responsible for the actions of some teenagers who uploaded a reprehensible video to Google video," Google's global privacy counsel Peter Fleischer, who was convicted in absentia, said in a statement.

The trial could help define whether the Internet in Italy is an open, self-regulating platform or if content must be better monitored for abusive material."

I share Google's dismay with the verdict. Although Google may be slow in reviewing objectionable videos on You Tube, they have been extremely cooperative in tracking down cyber knuckleheads. There are actually people who use today's technology to record and boast about crimes. Indeed, Google aided law enforcement in tracking down the thugs in Turin who were tormenting the developmentally disabled boy. Google deals with millions of videos. Prescreening all of them ould be a prohibitively expensive burden. When people commit crimes and make a video trophy, or steal jewelry from a crime victim, they tag themselves for future apprehension. If Google were to hide the identity of crime perpetrators, they would deserve to be dragged through the legal system. This is not the case. Google has been at the forefront of creating new legal areas of free speech and acting upon those issues in an ethical way.

Instead of sentencing Google executives , justice would be far better served if law enforcement and Google worked to shorten the time frame within which videos of possibly illegal activities are identified and forwarded to law enforcement. It may well be desirable for city, state and national police forces to beef up their readiness to process videos of illegal and violent acts.

I will always be grateful to Google for the manner in which they have enabled me to research and to publish. They deserve to be commended and assisted, not punished. The Google executives facing prison time in Italy should be freed. Their convictions should be thrown out. Justice demands it. Sphere: Related Content

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