Last week three Googlers in Italy were convicted to a suspended sentence after they had failed to respond quickly to an uploaded video on Youtube over a year ago which showed Italian youngsters harassing a young boy with Down Syndrom. The response around the web immediately was one of disbelieve. How could Google-employees be sentenced for something they weren’t even directly involved in? Some even came to the conclusion that the ruling was a disaster for the freedom of the web. This could change the web once and for all.
They could be right on the fact that this will change things. However, the ruling in Italy can also turn out to be a blessing in disguise. As I pointed out earlier Google is running into some cultural issues in Europe (and also China by the way). They now see that Europeans have a different take on some things than Americans do. Privacy is a big example of that. If you know Europeans the privacy-issues which now seem to be popping up every week will not come as a surprise. the New York Times analyses the problem very well. They see the clash between European privacy-demands and the US freedom of speech demands.
The fact that Googlers now are sentenced could very well trigger something which will be crucial for the future of the internet: a worldwide consensus on how the rules on the internet will have to work.The internet is multilingual and multinational. It is not just one country. Everybody is using the web. You don’t have to cross any borders if you click from an American to a European site or to a website in any other country in the world. There are no borders.
This means that this asks for a whole different way of looking at how jurisdictions work on the web. Because of the fact that there are no borders the laws from the different countries cannot just be copied from one site to another. Especially because many laws in are based on the ‘pre-internet-era’.
Its time to finally get the law straightened out. Laws in almost every country in the world are outdated. Some laws even go back centuries. The laws are not ‘ready’ for the web. The world now has to come to an agreement over the laws which affect the web. The laws have to be adjusted to fit the web. This will take a lot of effort and time. Trust me, it will take a lot of time. So it will take several years before this is sorted out. And thats why action has to be taken NOW.
The process has started already a little. The US has section 230 in their Communications Decency Act which says:
“No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” ….. “[n]o cause of action may be brought and no liability may be imposed under any State or local law that is inconsistent with this section.”
In the Netherlands digital rights organisation Bits of Freedom already started a Digital Rights campaign to create awareness among politicians to the internet issues. Barry has written a good post on that on his blog. And throughout the world there are several different initiatives which all will help a little. But I strongly believe we have to get this to a higher level.
First the different countries have to be united. On the highest possible level politicians should discuss the matter. If we can have a convention on the environment where all world leaders are united, why not have one about the internet? The role of the internet in the world is already a significant one and will only continue to grow in the near future so it wouldn’t be such a strange idea, would it?
On a one step lower level it would be a good idea to get experts together to discuss the matter. And Google and Facebook could very well take the initiative for that. They could get the best minds in the world around the table to make plans which politicians then could work with.
The ruling on the Googlers in Italy should make the internet world think and should make them act on getting this straightened out. The fact that laws which seem medieval are used on the web is simply irresponsible and will lead to more differences worldwide and will hold back innovation. Let the Italy – ruling be a trigger to take steps and then the ruling might just turn out to be a blessing.