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Italian prosecutors seek jail for Google execs

Published on 26/11/2009

Milan — Italian prosecutors sought six-month to a year sentences for four Google executives Wednesday over an Internet video showing the bullying of a teenager with Down’s Syndrome, the company said.

Google strongly denounced the case in a statement, calling it "a direct attack on a free, open Internet."

The four executives have been on trial in a Milan court over the video, which prosecutors argue Google had a legal responsibility to prevent being shown.

In the video, uploaded using a Google video site where it remained for nearly two months in late 2006, the teenager was bullied by four students in front of more than a dozen others who did not intervene.

"One year has been requested for three executives," a Google Italy spokeswoman said, adding six months had been urged for the fourth company official on trial.

Defence lawyers will lay out their arguments at a hearing set for December 16, with a date for the verdict expected to be set afterward. Wednesday’s hearing was closed to the public.

The maximum sentence for such charges — complicity in defamation and harm to private life — is three years in prison.

The Google executives on trial are David Carl Drummond, the head of Google Italy’s managing board at the time; George De Los Reyes, a board member who has since quit; Peter Fleitcher, in charge of privacy protection in Europe; and Arvind Desikan, head of videos for Europe.

Prosecutors sought the six-month sentence for Desikan.

Google said in its statement that "we did exactly what is required under European and Italian law."

"We took the video down when notified by the authorities and, thanks to our cooperation, the bullies who recorded and uploaded it have been identified and punished," it said.

The company said the case would be similar to prosecuting postal workers for distributing letters containing "hate speech."

Prosecutors said the trial was "not about Internet freedom, but whether or not a free zone exists where laws do not apply," according to elements of their argument reported by Italian media.