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Monday, March 1, 2010

Italian ruling against Google highlights US - EU divide on privacy

The recent ruling in an Italian court against three Google executives finding them criminally liable for violated Italian privacy law by allowing a video to be posted on YouTube predecessor Google Video has been widely criticized in the U.S. and abroad not only for the precedent the court is apparently trying to set (of holding service hosting companies liable for the actions of the service's users), but also for the way the ruling appears to run contrary to existing European laws. Regardless of the specific legal wranglings for the case or its pending appeal, the fact that the ruling came down the way it did at all is yet another illustration of the fundamental differences in the way privacy is viewed in European countries as compared to the U.S. As simply and accurately stated by Google's own legal personnel, the crux of the difference is that in Europe privacy is considered a human-dignity right, but in the U.S., it is treated as a consumer-protection right, particularly in the way privacy is legally protected. Privacy is explicitly enumerated in the European Convention on Human Rights, Article 8 of which states "Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence." There is no such right in the U.S. Constitution, so in American jurisprudence, the idea that privacy is a fundamental right is based on precedents established through a long series of rulings on other matters, that collectively serve to establish a right to privacy.

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