An Italian prosecutor demanded jail time Wednesday for four Google executives charged in absentia with defamation and violating privacy for allowing a video to be posted online showing an autistic youth being abused.
Prosecutor Alfredo Robledo is seeking a one-year term for three executives for violating privacy, and six months for a fourth for defamation in the case. Sentencing is expected Dec. 23.
"This prosecution is akin to prosecuting mail service employees for hate speech letters sent in the post," Google said. "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."
The Mountain View, California, company has said it considers the trial a threat to freedom on the Internet because it could force providers into an impossible task _ prescreening the thousands of hours of footage uploaded every day onto Web sites like the Google-owned YouTube.
Robledo insisted he is not arguing for censorship.
"The important point I made was that this is not about freedom of the Internet. It is an essential instrument. The real problem is balancing rights. The rights of a business needs to be balanced with general rights protected under the constitution," Robledo said by telephone.
The defendants, who are being tried in absentia in Milan, are Google's senior vice president and chief legal officer David Drummond, former chief financial officer George Reyes and global privacy counsel Peter Fleischer _ against whom the prosecutor requested a year _ and senior product marketing manager Arvind Desikan, against whom the prosecutor asked for six months.
All four have denied wrongdoing, and none was involved with producing, uploading or viewing the video, according to the defense.
The probe was sought by Vivi Down, an advocacy group for people with Down syndrome, which alerted prosecutors to the 2006 video showing an autistic student in Turin being beaten and insulted by bullies at school. In the footage, the youth is being mistreated while one of the teenagers puts in a mock telephone call to Vivi Down.
The events shortly preceded Google's 2006 acquisition of YouTube.
Google Italia, which is based in Milan, eventually took down the video, though the two sides disagree on how fast the company reacted to complaints. Thanks to the footage and Google's cooperation, the four bullies were identified and sentenced to community service by a juvenile court.
Also on Wednesday, another Milan court closed a tax evasion investigation against Google without pursuing an indictment, the Italian news agency ANSA reported.