Technion takes Google to court to shut down blog critical of medical program
A former student who publishes a blog highly critical of the Technion's program for American medical students said this week he would continue to do so, despite the university's lawsuit against the Internet company hosting one of his sites.
For the last few months, the anonymous blogger - whose identity was revealed to Anglo File on condition it not be published - has posted critical articles and personal denunciations about the Technion American Medical Students program, known as TeAMS.
Originally on www.technionteams.blogspot.com and now also on www.technionteams.com, he warns prospective students away from attending the program and levels serious allegations of corruption against the Haifa-based university and its staff, saying the institution is evasive toward applicants and has falsely reported data.
University spokesman, Amos Levav, declined to comment, pointing to the Technion's website and telling Anglo File that "the case is in the hands of the judge now."
On April 22, the blogger learned that the Technion filed a legal action against Google, Inc. - which owns Blogger, the company hosting the blogspot blog - with the Haifa district court. The university also filed a motion for a temporary restraining order, demanding the Web giant remove all defamatory material from the blog.
On its website, the Technion lists some of the allegations made on the blog, maintaining they are all slanderous, distorted and false.
In recent days, the institution states, the people behind the blog started acting in an increasingly harmful way, promoting the blog in e-mails sent to recipients worldwide.
As part of his claims against the university, the blogger filed complaints with the U.S. Department of Education against TeAMS. An investigative lawyer for the Oversight Committee of the U.S. Congress recently informed him he was interested in examining the allegations against the Technion. Contacted by Anglo File, the lawyer responded that "committee investigators do not talk to press."
Google, which is based in California, argued to the Haifa court that they lacked jurisdiction to rule on the case. But during a court hearing on April 28, Judge Menahem Raniel rejected that claim.
"This is the first time an Israeli court determined the responsibility of World Google as a provider of web hosting services to remove defamatory statements on the Internet," the Technion stated on its website this week.
The Technion's lawyers argued that as the owner of Blogger, Google is responsible for deleting the blog, which they say is "entirely dedicated to slander."
A spokesman for Google told Anglo File that "since this is an ongoing legal process, we are unable to comment."
The blogger, who currently resides in the U.S., seems unfazed by the legal proceedings. "They won't be successful, because even if the court decides that Google has to take the site down, it doesn't matter because they are not hosting the site anymore," he told Anglo File in a telephone interview this week, referring to his second website, which is nearly identical to the one hosted by Blogger. "Google is no longer hosting the website, it's now on the server of a different company. It's an American company that as far as I know does not do business in Israel."
As of yesterday, Blogger had not removed the blog.
According to Israeli law, online platform owners can be held responsible for defamatory material distributed on them, according to Yoram Lichtenstein, a Ramat Gan lawyer specializing in Internet and intellectual property law. American law, however, exempts platform operators from libel liability (although not libeling a party itself ), he said.
That's why the Technion wants to sue in Israel," he told Anglo File. "But usually Google fights its battles very smartly. They know when to negotiate settlements and when to fight until the end. Even in Israel they know when to negotiate and when to back off."
Lichtenstein said he knows of many precedents in which companies were obligated to act in accordance with another state's courts regarding the removal of libelous online content. If a company does business in a foreign country and causes damage there, it can also be held accountable by that state's courts, he added.
"The owner of the blog is less relevant to jurisdiction matters than the location where the damage is caused," he said. "It might be technically harder to go after an American company, but it is still possible."
The self-proclaimed whistleblower says he studied for two years at TeAMS and recently returned to his native U.S. because he felt mistreated at the program. He is no longer pursuing a medical degree and is currently working in an unrelated field, he said.
While he is determined not to be silenced by the Technion's lawsuit, he said his blog means to serve a constructive purpose. "Honestly, I don't plan on having the site for much longer because I'm assuming they're going to make a change," he said, referring to the program's alleged shortcomings. "Once the change is made the site doesn't have to be up anymore. I'd really rather not be doing this, it's actually very depressing. But at the same the time, if it prevents just one person from being in the position I was in, it's worth it."
TeAMS started in 1983 as a joint MS/MD program with New York's Touro College. A few years ago it became independent and since January 2011 is directed by U.S. native Andrew Levy. Anglo File spoke to several past and current students, including one person who teaches at the school, but everyone interviewed asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation from the school.
While Levy is well liked by all, some suggested the blog's content is not without merit. "I can attest to malfeasance that the Technion appears to be engaged in," a former student told Anglo File. "The environment was abusive and when wrongdoings were brought to the school's attention they reacted in a very defensive and threatening manner."
A current student alleged that many of the website's claims are true but that the situation has been improving in recent weeks, since Levy took over as the program's head.