By Jim Harper
Google executives who had nothing to do with the creation, uploading, review, or display of a video have been criminally convicted in Italy for its brief appearance on a Google site.
The video, which showed Italian children taunting an autistic schoolmate, was promptly taken down after Italian authorities notified Google. The company assisted the authorities in locating the girl who uploaded it, according to Google’s account. (Her subsequent conviction makes it safe to assume that Google was cooperating with a criminal investigation as required by Italian law.) But four Google employees were charged with criminal defamation and failure to comply with the Italian privacy code.
That can’t happen here—unless we let it happen here.
This is a good time to review and extoll the Communications Decency Act—not because it attempted to censor Internet speech (that part was overturned), but because it protected providers of interactive services (like Web sites) from having to become gatekeepers over Internet content. The law shielded them from liability for what users of their services do.
I believe common law would have eventually reached that result had the statute not been passed, but without protections like that in the CDA’s section 230, the wide-open, rollicking, soapbox-for-all Internet we know would not exist—it would be just a plussed-up television because everything uploaded would have to get a professional’s review for potential liability.
That’s what Italy stands to end up with if it allows liability against providers of interactive services. It’s what we stand to end up with if the many threats to CDA section 230 get traction.