ALCEI Press Release Nov. 26, 2006

The “Google case” in Italy:
one more excuse for censorship and repression

There is widespread concern in Italian mainstream media (and politics) about violence involving “minors”. In one of several recently reported cases, a bunch of teenagers brutally attacked a disabled person. They made a video of their performance and placed it on Youtube (the service, recently acquired by Google, that allows anyone to place a video online).

This particular episode, though it is one of many of the same sort, has led to extended reporting and comment. The high level of “noise” includes some considerate and serious observations on extended problems of violence and misbehavior (not only concerning “minors”). But it has also become a new pretext for censorship and repression. Including an additional emphasis on demands to establish, and increase, severe liability of internet providers for “content”. (That is, to make them automatically accountable for the actions of whoever uses their services).

Some of the comments point to real issues. Such as the responsibility of parents and educators, the widespread deterioration of human and social values, the warping of culture and behavior. But it is also providing an opportunity for those who, for a variety of reasons, are seeking every opportunity to control all forms of free speech – and especially the internet.

They are “blaming” the internet for this awful episode – while it is obvious that the disgusting idea of placing a video online provided a tool for finding and persecuting the perpetrators, who otherwise would have probably remained unidentified and uncontrolled.

Political spokesmen (of different parties across the “partisan” spectrum) are demanding or suggesting new laws and regulations, apparently including and obligation to obtain “written approval” by parents for minors to use the internet, but also to increase censorship, filtering and control by providers. This is, once again, a repetition of the usual unacceptable hypocrisy of those who invoke, or suggest, all sorts of repressive laws.

In this context, criminal proceeding have been opened against the Italian representatives of Google Inc., including a police raid of their office in Milan.

It would be obviously absurd to suggest that (as reported in several debates, newspaper articles and television comments) a search engine be made responsible for “content” that it neither produces nor hosts. But, even if the criminal procedure against Google is based on the fact that it now owns Youtube, that would still be a serious distortion of responsibility and one more attempt off censorship and repression – that, from one particular obnoxious episode, could be easily extended to wide forms of censorship and repression.

Those who demand or initiate repressive action forget that the European Union and Italy have already faced and solved the problem of the responsibility of internet providers. Directive 31/00, received in Italy with decree-law 70/2003, says clearly that there isn’t a general obligation of preventive surveillance by internet providers. If, and only if and when, there is a provision of the public authority, it is possible to remove, or make unavailable, contents or services.

(Ironically, in this case Google zealously – or even overzelausly, as the law requires that such actions be taken only when formally required – had already removed from Youtube that particular video, before being subjected to any legal action.)

It is, therefore, incomprehensible (if what reported by media will be confirmed) why and how the Milan public attorney may have started a legal procedure against Google Italia.

In a broader perspective, media and politicians appear (or pretend) to not know that existing legal prescriptions include obligations for parents to control the activities of minors and to be responsible for the actions of their children. Obviously the realities are being ignored, while seeking to exploit the situation to invoke or apply restrictions, prompted by emotion and substantially wrong, instead of facing seriously the real roots of the problem.

ALCEI has pointed out this problem several times, starting in 1996, including appeals to the European Union authorities. There was and there is a gross exploitation of a delicate and sensitive subject, such as the protection of minors, for opportunistic reasons of political propaganda as well as for a variety of private and selfish interests. This manipulation has led to laws (and a multitude of legal actions) that have no effectiveness in the protection of victims, while they allow and encourage abuse of power, manipulation and deceptive information. And, even worse, they reinforce obnoxious prejudice not only against information technologies and networks but, more importantly, against freedom of opinion and human rights.

ALCEI is available for any request of further comment and information.

Phone (39) 02-867045 (39) 335-5668996 (39) 347-8618164
fax (39) 02-39195246