Internet Censorship in Italy

 Censorship affecting bloogers and the press in Italy



14th February
2009
  

The Unwanted Face of Censorship...

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Italian government proposes law to ban faces it doesn't like.

Facebook logoFacebook has responded to a proposed Italian law that could see the social networking site forced to censor its members' postings and groups.

The row started when Italian media noticed fan groups for convicted mafia members on Facebook. The rumpus led Italian senator Gianpiero D'Alia to draft a law which would give the Interior Ministry the power to order internet service providers to remove web pages it doesn't like.

But a Facebook spokesdroid told Bloomberg that this would be like closing an entire railway network just because of offensive graffiti at one station. She added that Facebook would always remove any content promoting violence and already had a takedown procedure in place.

 

22nd February
2009
  

Update: Italian Censorship Mafia...

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Proposed law to censor dissent on the internet

Italy flagA new bill has come before the Italian Senate, giving the interior ministry the power to order Internet providers to remove criminal content within 24 hours or face a fine of up to 250,000 euros.

Senator Gianpiero D'Alia introduced the measure after the Italian press reported on the existence of Facebook fan groups for convicted Corleone-born Mafia bosses Salvatore Riina and Bernardo Provenzano, who have been convicted of dozens of homicides and are serving multiple life sentences in prison.

After Facebook expressed its concern about Italy's proposed law to force Internet providers to block access to websites that incite or justify criminal behaviour, D'Alia replied that the aim is not to block sites like Facebook or YouTube in their entirety if they contain criminal content. Rather, the senator explained, the law is intended to force them to remove individual pages or groups.

However, the text of the bill is misleading, as it does not distinguish between blocking pages and entire websites. This makes the law extremely flawed, as Marco Pancini, the European Public Policy Counsel for Google, which owns YouTube, has said. Internet providers are not able to eliminate single elements from websites, and this means blocking entire platforms in a situation where Internet providers themselves are not left with any choice but to respect orders for the removal of an unlawful site.

 

18th August
2009
  

Update: 2 Day Warning...

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Protests about a draconian right to reply to bloggers

Italy flag Italian bloggers went on strike in July to protest against government measures that they claim could kill the internet. They say the Alfano decree restricts the rights of bloggers to express their opinions without fear of comeback.

Demonstrators online and on the streets say the Italian government is trying to muzzle the internet.

If the Alfano decree becomes law, it would put websites on a par with newspapers, giving a right to reply to anyone who believes their reputation has been damaged by something published on the internet.

Alessandro Gilioli, a journalist and organiser of the blogging strike, says the measures could deter people from going online: They are discouraging the use of the internet, forcing all the bloggers to rectify any opinion that anybody thinks is hurting his honour or reputation and they are creating big fines, more than 10,000 (£8,500), if you don't publish your rectification in two days.

So that means that if a teenager stays two days away from the computer and he doesn't rectify his opinion, he is going to pay 10,000. That's stupid and that's incredible and overall that's discouraging people to use the internet.


It is not clear if the law Italy's senate will be voting on in the autumn will extend to bloggers, or, for that matter, who to ask about it. However Francesco Pizzetti, the president of Italy's Data Protection Authority says he does not believe the law will apply to bloggers: I don't believe they create a new obligation, so I don't believe they concern bloggers. It concerns the websites of newspapers and of the press generally.

Supporters of the law say it is unfair that bloggers can dole out a verbal bludgeoning online without regulation or any journalistic obligation to be fair and balanced.

As the Alfano decree suggests, Italian  attitudes to the web are fundamentally out of step with other Western countries. You need an ID, for example, to log-on at a wi-fi hotspot, and there has even been talk of banning anonymity online and obliging bloggers to register with the government.

 

23rd December
2009
  

Updated: Italian Internet Censorship...

Knee jerk response to Berlusconi assault

Italy flagThe Italian government has proposed introducing new restrictions on the Internet after a Facebook fan page for the man who allegedly attacked Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on Sunday drew almost 100,000 users in under 48 hours.

But the planned clampdown on Internet hate speech sparked a heated debate over censorship and freedom of expression, leading Interior Minister Roberto Maroni to execute a partial U-turn Wednesday.

Maroni and Justice Minister Angelino Alfano promised swift action to punish those who instigate violence on the Web, suggesting the government might pass an emergency decree Thursday to create new sanctions for the offense. But Wednesday, Maroni was at pains to reassure the public that any new legislation would be fully debated in parliament and would not curtail freedom of expression.

The controversy followed the creation of several Facebook pages praising Massimo Tartaglia, the mentally disturbed man accused of hitting Berlusconi in the face with a statuette of Milan's gothic cathedral, sending the prime minister to the hospital with broken teeth and a broken nose.

Lawmakers from Berlusconi's People of Freedom party argued in parliament that the attack on the prime minister was the result of a climate of hate generated by virulent opposition criticism and expressed outrage that so many Italians could justify such a serious physical assault.

Maroni originally indicated the government was considering measures that would speed up the removal of offensive material -- by allowing police to appeal directly to a judge without passing through a prosecutor -- impose fines on hate crime offenders, and introduce filters to prevent access to sites that instigate violence.

Members of his own party, however, were quick to warn against any curtailment of Internet freedom, suggesting that current laws already provide sufficient protection against the criminal use of the Web.

Update: Government Back Off

23rd December 2009.  Based on article from nytimes.com

Italy has dropped plans to black out Internet hate sites despite a pledge for radical measures after fan pages emerged on the Internet last week praising an attack on Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Interior Minister Roberto Maroni, who had proposed blocking such sites following the assault on the prime minister, said after meeting with executives from Facebook, Google, Microsoft and other Internet service providers he would seek a solution through a shared code of conduct rather than new legislation.

The road to follow is to find an agreement with all those involved and avoid forcing through new measures, Maroni told reporters: If this agreement is found, it would be the first of this kind in the world, he said, adding that more talks will be held in January.

 

7th January
2010
  

Update: State Blog Control...

Berlusconi exploits assault for more internet censorship

Italy flagSilvio Berlusconi's government is exploiting the violent attack against him in order to restrict internet freedom.

Early last month, at a political rally in Milan, Italy's prime minister Silvio Berlusconi was hit with a plaster statue by a man with a long record of mental problems. His injuries were minor, he suffered a broken nose and lost a lot of blood.

Following the violent attack, Berlusconi's opponents took to social networking sites and Kill Silvio briefly became a popular Facebook group. Italian ministers blamed bloggers for creating a climate of hatred and made calls for tighter regulation. The government is now pushing for a bill that would restrict internet freedom by making it compulsory, even for blogs, to get a government permission before posting political comment on the web.

Such a measure was first envisaged in August when the press revealed that prominent members of the Lega Nord party part of Berlusconi's ruling coalition had created a Facebook group inciting Italians to kill illegal immigrants.

 

19th January
2010
  

Updated: Hands off the Net...

Italians to require government permission to upload videos to websites

Italy flagNew rules to be introduced by government decree will require people who upload videos onto the Internet to obtain authorization from the Communications Ministry similar to that required by television broadcasters, drastically reducing freedom to communicate over the Web, opposition lawmakers have warned.

The decree is ostensibly an enactment of a European Union (EU) directive on product placement and is due to go into effect at the end of January after being subjected to a nonbinding appraisal by parliament.

Opposition lawmakers held a press conference in parliament to denounce the new rules -- which require government authorization for the uploading of videos, give individuals who claim to have been defamed a right of reply and prevent the replay of copyright material -- as a threat to freedom of expression.

The decree subjects the transmission of images on the Web to rules typical of television and requires prior ministerial authorization, with an incredible limitation on the way the Internet currently functions, opposition Democratic Party lawmaker Paolo Gentiloni told the press conference.

Article 4 of the decree specifies that the dissemination over the Internet of moving pictures, whether or not accompanied by sound, requires ministerial authorization. Critics say it will therefore apply to the Web sites of newspapers, to IPTV and to mobile TV, obliging them to take on the same status as television broadcasters.

Italy joins the club of the censors, together with China, Iran and North Korea, said Gentiloni's party colleague Vincenzo Vita.

The decree was also condemned by Articolo 21, an organization dedicated to the defense of freedom of speech as enshrined in article 21 of the Italian constitution. The group said the measures resembled an earlier government attempt to crack down on bloggers by imposing on them the same obligations and responsibilities as newspapers.

The group launched an appeal Friday entitled Hands Off the Net, saying the restrictive measures would mark the end of freedom of expression on the Web. The restrictions would prevent the recounting of the life of the Italians in moving pictures on the Internet, it said.

Update: National strike

19th January 2010. Based on article from variety.com

Google logoGoogle has announced it will counter regulations being drafted by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's government that would police content on Google-owned YouTube.

The Internet measures are contained in a radical package of TV legislation now being pushed through parliament. The sweeping bills are also drawing fire from TV and film industry workers, who have called a national strike today to protest against other aspects of the package, including the elimination of quotas that support local indie productions.

Google's European public policy counsel, Marco Pancini, has requested an urgent meeting with Paolo Romani, the communications undersecretary who drafted the decree designed to give the government control over video content uploaded onto the Internet, similar to the authority it already has over broadcasters.

We are concerned over the fact that Internet service providers, like YouTube, that simply make content available to the general public, are being bundled together with traditional television networks that actually manage content, Pancini told paper La Stampa. It amounts to destroying the entire Internet system.

 

9th February
2010
  

Update: Hands off the Net...

Italian parliamentarians request that the government back off from treating bloggers and YouTube as broadcasters

Italy flagItalian lawmakers on committees in the Senate and Chamber of Deputies (upper and lower houses of parliament) have requested sweeping changes in a proposed broadcasting law, particularly in the section governing the internet, which had aroused widespread condemnation.

Deputy Communications Minister Paolo Romani, who was responsible for promoting the broadcasting  law, said the government would take rigorous account of the lawmakers' suggestions.

Blogs with amateur videos, online newspapers, search engines and the online versions of magazines are free, and editorial responsibility does not fall on providers who host content generated by others, Alessio Butti, the government lawmaker who drew up the text approved by the Senate committee, told reporters.

The Chamber and Senate Commissions have proposed significant and positive changes to the draft broadcasting law, Marco Pancini, senior European public policy counsel for Google Italy, said in a prepared statement. Under the original draft of the broadcasting law, which the government says enacts a European Union directive, YouTube risked being treated as a conventional television broadcaster, requiring a special licence from the government and assuming editorial responsibility for all material uploaded to its website.

Paolo Nuti, president of the Association of Italian internet Providers (AIIP), said he welcomed the change of heart expressed by the parliamentary committees but pointed out that their recommendations were not binding on the government.

Bloggers were also quick to welcome the government's apparent U-turn. This is a new U-turn made necessary by the incompetence of the geriatric ward that, unfortunately for us, on both sides of the political spectrum, occupies Italy's seats of power, said Andrea Guida, writing on the blog geekissimo.

 

30th July
2010
  

Robbery with Intimidation...

Nasty attack on Italian bloggers with impossibly quick right of reply requirement

Italy flagOne of the provisions of the Media and Wiretapping Bill currently being discussed by the Italian Parliament is that all those responsible for information websites will be required to issue corrections within 48 hours to any complaint regarding website content, whether blogs, opinion, comment and/or information in general.

Corrections would need to be in the same form in which the contested content was originally put online, whether text, podcast or video. Failure to do so will risk a fine of up to 12,500 euros.

This law seeks to apply to online opinion/information/news whether professional or amateur, commercial or individual the same rules as those applied to the traditional media as established in the law of 1948, namely Article 8 relating to the so-called obbliga di rettifica or requirement to issue corrections. Media law will thus henceforth make no distinction between mainstream media and the multifarious world of information and/or opinion on the web.

Is it right for bloggers, content-sharing websites or any other online information-providers to have to publish a correction within 48 hours if any of their content, whether direct or indirect, is considered false or slanderous? The web is not the press. Rules should be different for mainstream media and online information. To manage any request for correction is time-consuming and complex - just to evaluate whether the complaint is justified might require professional expertise which the vast majority of online information websites don't have. At stake is the very existence of the website - a heavy fine would for many constitute closure.

What's the likely result of this proposed law? Many bloggers and amateur participants in web debate and information-gathering will simply decide it's not worth the risk and the hassle. They'll retreat to the position they may well have started from, namely passive consumers of news. Or continue in an active online role but only on issues of low media visibility so as to avoid drawing attention to themselves. All of this is inimical to a healthy democracy of well-informed and actively involved citizens.

Consider the practicalities of request for correction to a social networking website: first see the request (a day at the beach or illness might become very expensive indeed), then locate the author (ditto), then check the content (how can second-hand information be quickly and effectively verified?), then decide whether the request for correction is justified (natural tendency to issue corrections each time just to be on the safe side?), then (having carefully weighed all the relevant issues) perhaps issue the correction. All within 48 hours. Power cut? Tough luck! Server down? Your problem! A post on my website by someone I don't know on an issue I'm not interested in while I'm off scuba-diving and I'm on the hook for 12,500 euros? This isn't law-making worthy of a modern democracy, it's robbery with intimidation.

 

4th July
2011
  

Updated: Obscure Censorship...

Italy set to impose a mechanism for internet censorship in the name of copyright control

Italy flag The Italian government has launched a fresh attack on freedom to access information. In a few days, an obscure administrative body could get huge powers to censor the internet.

The party-nominated Communications Authority is about to agree on a mechanism that could even lead to the closure of any foreign website, from Wikileaks to Youtube to Avaaz!, if suspected of violating copyright laws.

Experts are already denouncing the unconstitutionality of this regulation, but it will take an avalanche of public opposition to stop this new assault.

The Avaaz website team write:

Next week the Authority will vote the law, and if we build a massive public outcry against internet censorship, we could tip the balance. Let's flood the members of the Authority with messages urging them to abstain from adopting the regulation and preserve our right to access information on the Internet. Act now and forward this email to everyone!

www.avaaz.org/en/it_internet_bavaglio/?vl

Over the years, Berlusconi has sought to control information on the Internet, but so far his attempts have failed. Now, away from the headlines, his government has a real chance to expand its tentacles into the Internet unless citizens speak up.

Update: Opposition

4th July 2011. See  article from  agi.it

IdV party's Di Pietro has announced moves to counter the AgCom broadcasting watchdog's issue of new rules for the net.

In a statement published via facebook, the opposition MP said: the net is the last remaining preserve of free information and must not be subject to censorship. We [the IdV party] have filed questions in Parliament concerning AgCom's latest provisions.

Update: New Powers

6th July 2011. See  article from  technorati.com

The Italian telecommunications agency AGCOM has given itself a new power: starting from July 6th the agency can shut down access to any website accused by copyright holders to break their rights. No judge will be consulted and the supposedly offending sites have no possibility to defend themselves.

 

26th July
2011
  

Update: First the Torrent Sites, Then the Proxy Sites, Then...

Web blocking censorship spreads in Italy

Italy flag Italian ISPs were forced to block a legal proxy-server website after the authorities found that proxyitalia.com could be used to access BtJunkie , The Pirate Bay , and other websites banned under Italy's copyright enforcement regime.

Italy's cybercrime police unit, the Guardia di Finanza (GdF), banned the general-purpose proxy service at the request of Cagliari deputy prosecutor, in a move which provoked widespread condemnation in the Internet community:

A UK ISPA Spokesperson said:

Blocking access to proxy servers and VPNs is not an effective means of tackling copyright infringement online and will prevent access for legitimate uses of this technology such as mobile working and securing public wireless networks.

 

28th September
2011
  

Update: Extreme Penalties...

Italy's bloggers to protest over right to reply bill slipped in seemingly to protect Berlusconi from comments about his indiscretions

Italy flagItalian bloggers are to demonstrate in Rome on Thursday against what one opposition leader called a fascist measure that would make them liable for fines of up to EUR12,000 ( £ 10,000).

The proposed restrictions were slipped into a bill to curb the right of the media in Italy to publish wiretap transcripts gathered during criminal investigations.

Critics argue it was drafted by Silvio Berlusconi's government to protect the prime minister from embarrassment. It seems to be in response to a media report that included transcripts in which the prime minister discussed the quantity and qualities of  sex workers, and boasted he had sex with eight in a single night.

The bill, due to begin its journey through parliament next week, includes a clause that puts blogs on the same footing as news websites. It stipulates that anyone who believes they have been defamed or misrepresented in a blog has a right of reply. The blogger would get 48 hours in which to accede to the demand. In the event of a refusal, he or she would become liable for the fine.

Antonio Di Pietro, the leader of the anti-corruption Italy of Principles party and a keen blogger, called the proposal an insult to freedom and democracy. It is a fascist measure.

 

6th October
2011
  

Updated: Protecting Berlusconi...

Italy's bloggers protest over right to reply bill that will throttle freedom of expression

Italy flag Italy's Internet activists gathered in front of Rome's ancient Pantheon Thursday to protest a new law they say will throttle freedom of expression on the Web.

The new rule, due to be presented in parliament next week, would oblige all online publications to publish a correction within 48 hours of receiving a request or risk a EUR12,000 ( £ 10,400) fine.

Critics say the law would have a particularly devastating effect on citizen bloggers and is intended to protect the interests of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, whose image has been severely battered by the publication of police telephone taps that have cast an embarrassing light on his unorthodox private life.

Luca Nicotra, secretary of the activist association Agora Digitale, said his organization was calling on all lawmakers to support amendments to the bill that would limit its effects to professional news organizations only.

A newspaper has the ability to respond to requests that may be illegitimate. The ordinary citizen does not, Nicotra told a crowd of around 100 people gathered in front of the massive Roman temple.

It's easy to imagine this instrument being used in an intimidating way, said a leaflet distributed by Agora Digitale at the rally. Any citizen writing on the web, who doesn't have a newspaper's legal department to defend him, will be induced to accept requests for corrections even when convinced that he has written the truth, causing people to censor themselves in order to avoid the risk of a fine.

Giuseppe Giulietti, an opposition lawmaker and founder of Articolo 21 , said he would appeal against the law to the European Court of Human Rights if it was passed in its present form by the Italian parliament.

Opponents of the law were setting up a committee of media law specialists to assist bloggers and anyone else who ran into difficulty because of it, Giulietti said. If there is a democratic emergency we will be present to support you, wherever you are, he said.

Update: Wikipedia Protest

6th October 2011. Based on See  article from  bbc.co.uk

Wikipedia logo Wikipedia's Italian edition has taken all entries but one offline in protest at a draft privacy law restricting the publication of police wiretaps. Transcripts of his telephone calls have embarrassed Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, on trial for corruption and using underage prostitutes.

MPs have begun debating an amendment which would limit the right of newspapers and other websites to publish wiretaps during a police investigation.

Wikipedia says it may take down its Italian site, www.wikipedia.it, permanently if the law is passed. Amendments would have to be published within 48 hours at the request of the person making the complaint, without any recourse to a court or independent adjudicator. In an open letter to its Italian readers, Wikipedia said:

The obligation to publish on our site the correction... without even the right to discuss and verify the claim, is an unacceptable restriction of the freedom and independence of Wikipedia.

 

8th October
2011
  

Updated: Protecting Berlusconi...

Italy's bloggers protest over right to reply bill that will throttle freedom of expression

Italy flag Italy's Internet activists gathered in front of Rome's ancient Pantheon Thursday to protest a new law they say will throttle freedom of expression on the Web.

The new rule, due to be presented in parliament next week, would oblige all online publications to publish a correction within 48 hours of receiving a request or risk a EUR12,000 ( £ 10,400) fine.

Critics say the law would have a particularly devastating effect on citizen bloggers and is intended to protect the interests of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, whose image has been severely battered by the publication of police telephone taps that have cast an embarrassing light on his unorthodox private life.

Luca Nicotra, secretary of the activist association Agora Digitale, said his organization was calling on all lawmakers to support amendments to the bill that would limit its effects to professional news organizations only.

A newspaper has the ability to respond to requests that may be illegitimate. The ordinary citizen does not, Nicotra told a crowd of around 100 people gathered in front of the massive Roman temple.

It's easy to imagine this instrument being used in an intimidating way, said a leaflet distributed by Agora Digitale at the rally. Any citizen writing on the web, who doesn't have a newspaper's legal department to defend him, will be induced to accept requests for corrections even when convinced that he has written the truth, causing people to censor themselves in order to avoid the risk of a fine.

Giuseppe Giulietti, an opposition lawmaker and founder of Articolo 21 , said he would appeal against the law to the European Court of Human Rights if it was passed in its present form by the Italian parliament.

Opponents of the law were setting up a committee of media law specialists to assist bloggers and anyone else who ran into difficulty because of it, Giulietti said. If there is a democratic emergency we will be present to support you, wherever you are, he said.

Update: Wikipedia Protest

6th October 2011. Based on See  article from  bbc.co.uk

Wikipedia logo Wikipedia's Italian edition has taken all entries but one offline in protest at a draft privacy law restricting the publication of police wiretaps. Transcripts of his telephone calls have embarrassed Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, on trial for corruption and using underage prostitutes.

MPs have begun debating an amendment which would limit the right of newspapers and other websites to publish wiretaps during a police investigation.

Wikipedia says it may take down its Italian site, www.wikipedia.it, permanently if the law is passed. Amendments would have to be published within 48 hours at the request of the person making the complaint, without any recourse to a court or independent adjudicator. In an open letter to its Italian readers, Wikipedia said:

The obligation to publish on our site the correction... without even the right to discuss and verify the claim, is an unacceptable restriction of the freedom and independence of Wikipedia.

Update: Amateur bloggers excused from repressive take down requirements

8th October 2011. See  article from  en.rsf.org

Reporters without Borders logo Reporters Without Borders has strongly condemned the resumption of parliamentary discussion of a government bill that would curb the publication of police wiretaps in the news media and would force websites to publish corrections automatically.

The bill had been approved by the senate in June 2010, but had been shelved because of an outcry from civil society. Conveniently for the embattled prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, the bill's adoption was added to the agenda of the chamber of deputies. With a few cosmetic changes that were approved by a legislative committee on 5 October, the final version was due to be voted on next week.

Reporters Without Borders said.

Restricting the publication of tapped phone conversations in the media to this degree would gravely impede investigative journalism. It has all the hallmarks of a crude and dishonest device for gagging the media. It also has a distinctly political dimension. The government is trying to cover up the prime minister's sex scandals, many of which have been exposed by the publication of phone transcripts.

Although bloggers are omitted from the bill's latest version, online journalists are facing the possibility of having to censor themselves or comply with every request for a correction in order to avoid a 12,000 euro fine. By ignoring the right to information and by making corrections automatic, allowing no possibility of challenging them, the bill is totally out of step with international principles and European legal precedents.

As a democracy and European Union member, Italy has a duty to defend civil liberties. Italy's parliamentarians must consider the international impact of their actions and abandon this bill.

The bill would also allow any individuals who deem themselves to have been defamed by online content to demand the publication of a statement or correction within 48 hours. The demand could be sent by email and failure to comply could result in a 12,000 euro fine. The bill's original version concerned anyone posting online, including bloggers, but this caused such an outcry that the amended version concerns only professional websites.

The vagueness of this clause continues to be very worrying. Worse still, the measure is automatic. Websites are given no opportunity to dispute the demand for a correction before a judge on the grounds of accuracy or bad faith on the plaintiff's part.