The conviction in Italy of three Google executives charged with neglecting individual privacy has been heavily criticised by legal and privacy experts.
The executives were convicted of violating the privacy of a teenager with Down's Syndrome because Google failed to stop a clip being posted on the Italian version of Google Video showing the boy being bullied by four classmates.
Privacy organisations and lawyers contacted by V3.co.uk said they were shocked by the ruling, and have given surprisingly little endorsement to the court's decision, even though it upholds privacy and taps into growing concerns that individuals lack adequate internet identity protection. They argued that the decision is out of touch with modern law and internet freedom principles, and highlights the importance of establishing global privacy standards.
The experts also maintained that the ruling could affect the privacy policies of web service providers, as well as restrict the freedom with which content is shared over the internet. Google has said that it will appeal against the verdict.
Susan Hall, an IT lawyer at UK law firm Cobbetts, described the case as a " definition issue".
"It seems like the court exploited a technical term," she said. "They have drawn what is called the 'carrier exception' as narrow as possible. The exception protects BT from being sued if someone makes obscene phone calls on their network."
Hall was referring to European Union legislation which states that internet service providers (ISPs) are not responsible for monitoring third-party content on their sites, but must remove such content if they receive complaints.
Google claimed that it removed the offending video within 24 hours of receiving two complaints, but Italian prosecutors said that the company took much longer to remove the content. They also argued that the search company is an internet content provider, rather than an ISP, and is therefore in breach of the same Italian law that regulates newspaper and television publishers.
Apart from the discrepancies with EU law, the case is believed to be the first time that a criminal sanction has ever been pursued against privacy officers for their company's actions.
"It is extraordinary that the people accused did not even know that the offence had occurred but were still prosecuted. It is worrying that the spread of criminal responsibility has fallen on people in the organisation just because of the title of their position," Hall said.
"I have a suspicion that the court may have made a rogue decision and that it may have to go through the Human Rights Act. This could lead to an interesting discussion on what constitutes criminal liability."
Alex Brown, a partner at international law firm Simmons & Simmons, was equally surprised by the verdict.
"It is clearly an odd decision at a few levels. It is not a decision that privacy professionals elsewhere should get worried about, but people in Italy will take notice," he said.
"Google and YouTube cannot realistically monitor everything on their sites, and cannot really cut off all Italian people from posting content, so it is difficult to know what web firms such as Google can do to mitigate the risk."
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