Just when I thought we might get a break from online privacy issues for awhile, the privacy case against three Google execs in Italy is the focal point of a piece from The New York Times. It's not about the actual case, or the prison sentences the gentlemen received -- those have been suspended.
Instead, it highlights the differences between the European idea of privacy and the U.S. idea of privacy, and how they will affect the Internet and companies like Google in the years to come. Essentially, Europeans view privacy in terms of dignity, and their policies work to keep private things from being broadcast to the public. U.S. residents, on the other hand, see privacy in terms of liberty.
Google attorney Nicole Wong explained the difference this way:
The framework in Europe is of privacy as a human-dignity right. As enforced in the U.S., it's a consumer-protection right...
In the United States, First Amendment freedoms often win out over privacy, but the European view could threaten freedoms we take for granted in the U.S., writer Adam Liptack indicates. Because the European view is the strictest, the easiest thing for Google to do is apply it globally rather than try to keep up with every local standard.
In 2004, a judge on the European Court of Human rights noted:
I believe that the courts have to some extent and under American influence made a fetish of the freedom of the press. It is time that the pendulum swung back to a different kind of balance between what is private and secluded and what is public and unshielded.
The case in Italy might the catalyst that begins the swing.