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Google accused of violating Italian law

Gmail under spotlight, newspaper reports

An Italian prosecutor has accused Google of violating Italian and European regulations in the way it handles its email communications, the Corriere della Sera newspaper reported on Monday.

The criticism was contained in a letter sent to fellow prosecutors in Milan by public prosecutor Corrado Carnevali. The letter claimed Google's practices "were not in conformity with Italian law from numerous points of view", Corriere della Sera reported.

Carnevali was reportedly commenting on a letter from Google vice president for legal affairs Nicole Wong setting out the US company's privacy procedures and policies. The confidential letter reportedly stated that Google reserved the right to exercise its own discretion over whether to provide information to judicial investigators "even in emergency circumstances involving the imminent danger of death or grave physical injuries".

Carnevali took note of the policy "with profound sorrow", he said in his letter.

The Milan prosecutor reportedly criticised Google's policy of retaining the data relating to its Gmail accounts for a mere 30 days, rather than the 12 months mandated by a 2006 directive from the European Union (EU) and an Italian law passed in May 2008. The 30-day data retention "has no justification in law and involves, by its brevity, an evident harm to IT investigations."

Google's refusal to communicate the IP addresses of its email users located outside the European Union was also harmful for investigations, Carnevali said in his letter, given that EU-based criminals could easily make use of email accounts located outside the European Union.

A spokeswoman for Google Italy rejected the criticisms. "The Postal and Communications Police can confirm that we have always collaborated to facilitate their inquiries while protecting the privacy of honest users," spokeswoman Simona Panseri said in a telephone interview. "We respect all the terms of the bilateral agreement between the United States and Italy."

Wong's letter was confidential and its publication could damage the interests of honest Internet users in Italy, Panseri said.

"We can't understand why people are talking about a conflict between Google and the Italian judicial authorities when Google has always cooperated fully with the national police authorities by providing the information requested of it with great accuracy and speed," Panseri said.

Panseri said there was no connection between Carnevali's correspondence with Wong and an ongoing trial in Milan of four Google executives accused of violating Italy's privacy laws in connection with the posting on Google Video of a film showing a teenaged Down Syndrome sufferer being tormented by his classmates. The trial is due to resume Tuesday with evidence from a Google engineer on how Google Video operated in Italy at the time of the alleged offense.


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