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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Online Liability and the End of the Web as We Know It

I'd like to believe further commentary on House Bills 1277 and 1278 is now just postscript... but as Mr. Powers warns us, the fight for free speech online in South Dakota has only just begun.

So as we brace for whatever controls the South Dakota Legislature tries to impose on the blogosphere next, let's see what Google says about an alarming judicial ruling in Italy [cross-posted from my DSU blog].

Yesterday a Milan judge convicted three of four Google executives charged with violations of Italy's privacy code. In 2006, some punks posted a video of themselves bullying an autistic kid. Google removed the video when notified by Italian police, but the court still pressed charges against the Google employees. The Google guys got out of defamation charges, but Google says the convictions establish a criminal liability for Internet providers that could destroy the Web:

Common sense dictates that only the person who films and uploads a video to a hosting platform could take the steps necessary to protect the privacy and obtain the consent of the people they are filming. European Union law was drafted specifically to give hosting providers a safe harbor from liability so long as they remove illegal content once they are notified of its existence. The belief, rightly in our opinion, was that a notice and take down regime of this kind would help creativity flourish and support free speech while protecting personal privacy. If that principle is swept aside and sites like Blogger, YouTube and indeed every social network and any community bulletin board, are held responsible for vetting every single piece of content that is uploaded to them — every piece of text, every photo, every file, every video — then the Web as we know it will cease to exist, and many of the economic, social, political and technological benefits it brings could disappear [Matt Sucherman, "Serious Threat to the Web in Italy," Google Blog, 2010.02.24].

Google is appealing the convictions.


  1. The vision graces my mind's eye even as I pound this out from cool, sere Cody, Wyoming, the recluse's best-kept winter secret.

    Italian policio storm my house because one of my relatives uploaded a naughty photo or said some ugly thing to my Facebook page.

    I had better have plenty of pizza around all the time, you know, the sort my Sicilian grandma used to make, all dough and hot spice.

    More seriously, I plan to watch the progeny of HB 1277 and HB 1278 in South Dakota whether or not I move to Wyoming (or, for that matter, Florence). Laws like this could have international repercussions.

    Maybe our politicians can get rid of all the people who want to blow us up, and then they can focus their attention on getting rid of all the people who post stupid content on the Web.

  2. Thanks for sounding the alarm on this kind of stuff. Glad the two SD bills are down - for now - but as you show here there are plenty of bullets coming behind the ones we've dodged.

  3. Hey Stan:

    Are you looking at real estate in Crook County, Wyoming?

  4. Today's Argus draws attention to an email, sent by Baltic School staff that inferred a young student was given Ecstasy at a popular Sioux Falls Pizza parlor. The story caught fire, went to potentially thousands of students and parents and later was proven to be unfounded. The business likely will suffer financial damages. Should the staff member be sued for not clarifying the story before sending it? Is the Baltic School District and State of South Dakota liable since they operate the email system? How far up the chain can they go? Interesting local scenario following the defeat of those two internet source bills.

  5. Larry:

    Just got back from Park County. Was looking at one house near Cody and the other near Powell.

    Haven't looked at anything in Crook County yet.

    Gotta have a great swimming pool that's open for laps all the time! I have been to Casper, Sheridan, Buffalo, and Lander in the past.

    For now, I'll count my blessings that I have a good pool only two blocks away right here in Lead!

    Now more onto the topic (at least slightly): The Wyoming legislature seems a lot less inclined than the South Dakota legislature to fool around with morality issues (or unenforceable technological mandates) during their sessions -- or am I missing something?

    Is Wyoming too busy balancing its budget to worry about virtual cyber venom, abortion rights, smoking bans, etc.? Oh, but I think I did see something about regulating tanning beds ... my little actinic keratoses would tend to let that one go.

    Now all this said: I certainly would never condone anonymous libel on the Internet, or anonymous defamation of character. Hamiel and Turbak-Berry are onto something here; I think however that it can't effectively be regulated at the state level.

    Education seems the best answer to me -- both in the technical and ethical realms. Laws might be crafted that can enhance the benefits of the Web while not allowing it to degenerate into a cesspool of immorality, criminality, and idiocy. I say might with a raised eyebrow or three.


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