Just before Christmas, an Italian Appeals Court over-turned the convictions of three Googlers, including myself, for allegedly violating Italian privacy law. Now, after roughly 2 months, the Court has issued its written opinion to explain its decision. The Court's opinion is a lucid and ringing endorsement of the principles Google and I have been defending since the beginning of this prosecution 6 years ago:
- Intermediary Liability: The Court held that Internet platforms, like Google Video or YouTube, are not responsible for user-uploaded content, absent notice of inappropriate content. These platforms also cannot—and should not—be required to pre-screen content that is uploaded to them. Any efforts to pre-screen content would raise serious risks to users’ freedom of expression. In the Court's own words: “Imposing a duty on or granting the power to, an internet provider to carry out prior screening seems to be a step that is to be afforded particularly careful consideration, given that it is not entirely free of risk due to the possibility of a conflict arising with the principles of freedom of expression of thought”.
- Privacy: The Court held that people who film and upload videos are responsible for compliance with data privacy laws. Internet platforms cannot possibly obtain the consent of people appearing in user-uploaded videos. In the words of the Court: "it is patently clear that any assessment of the purpose of an image contained in a video, capable of ascertaining whether or not a piece of data is sensitive, implies a semantic, variable judgement which can certainly not be delegated to an IT process".
- Criminal Responsibility: The Court recognized the basic legal principle that employees like me could not have the required criminal intent to violate data privacy laws when they had nothing to do with, and weren't even aware of, the alleged criminal data privacy violation.
This case was never about me at all, as I was just a random and unfortunate vehicle for a broader judicial test of intermediary liability. Obviously, I'm relieved personally to be acquitted. But I'm delighted that this case has generated a clarion legal precedent in favor of freedom of expression. In particular, I'd like to thank the many people who expressed their support for me throughout these six years, in particular, my numerous colleagues at Google and my stellar team of outside counsel, all of whom worked tirelessly to see these principles prevail. And I'd like to thank the many people who realized that there were important principles at stake in this prosecution, who added their voices to the policy debate, in Italy and beyond. This saga is (probably, hopefully) over for me.
Together today, we can celebrate and applaud this step forward towards a brighter digital future in Italy.