The South Dakota blogosphere was all a-fluster this month over two proposed bills, House Bills 1277 and 1278, which sought to impose some accountability on anonymous blog commenters. I tried to use my powers for good, offering some counterproposals that might address concerns about online defamation. I was surprised that Dakota State University folks weren’t more involved in this debate. We are the most wired campus in the state; DSU profs and students ought to be at the nexus of any debate involving online technology and culture.

Both bills died in committee Monday. But overseas (and on the Internet, is there any such thing as overseas?), there’s plenty more news about Internet law and policy:

In Italy 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.

China is requiring anyone who wants to start a website come down to City Hall for a chat with Uncle Mao. Most of us can get a domain name and start posting content from the comfort of our couch in minutes with a few clicks and a credit card. China wants domain seekers to meet with regulators and provide identity documents. The Communist government says they’re just trying to control online pornography, but rights activists know a chilling effect when they see one. Hmm… using offensive online content as an excuse for oppressive Web regulations… sound familiar?

Our friends the Poles at least are getting it right. Poland’s government just abandoned an Internet censorship plan. The plan to create a government registry of banned websites was part of a plan to crack down on gambling, but activists for Internet rights and free speech saw the potential for the government to abuse such a registry and start adding other sites various officials might find disagreeable.

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