The Roman Catholic Church Knows Better (about privacy and the Internet)

Monsignor Nunzio Galantino, the secretary of the Conferenza Episcopale Italiana (the permanent assembly of Roman Catholic Bishops) stated that (my translation)

The Internet is useful and effective, but the price we pay in term of privacy is huge

and, talking about the Data Protection Authority, he said

I don’t understand what these useless entities are worth for.

Of course he’s right, but the Italian Data Protection Commissioner (obviously) has a different opinion claiming that (again, my translation)

It is rather odd to call as useless the only entity that – within its powers – has always defended the human dignity from the “mud machine” 1, and from the plots arranged by those who want to turn the Internet into a space of violence and outlaws, form the totalitarian logic of the man-in-a-fishbowl.

Is this the same Data Protection Authority that failed to address the issues of the Telindus Router, the Android Spyware Case, The Pirate Bay Case, the Aruba Case, the Sony BMG rootkit case, that didn’t say a single word (while being informed) about the security concerns in relationship to the upcoming massive, trial-related personal data flood originated by the online shift of the Italian Civil Trial System, and that wasn’t able to prevent the leak of a confidential report?

 

  1. The reference is to a journalism idiomatic meaning the use of the media machine to soil somebody’s reputation

The Italian Internet Bill of Rights. The Trojan Horse Keeps Shaping

According to the Italian online newsmagazine Repubblica.it the Italian Bill of Rights endorsed by Boldrini, the leftist President of the Italian Low Chamber (Camera dei Deputati) is almost ready and will affirm principles such “net-neutrality”, “right to privacy”, “right to universal access” and so on.

If this is what is all this Internet Bill of Rights about, then much ado for practically nothing, since all the alleged “Internet Rights” are already broadly covered by existing laws and regulation but what we do lack is a fair enforcement. Copyright is one of the most blatant examples: the current law protects the author, gives him full control over his works and let him free to use whatever licensing model of choice. He has the right to be acknowledged as the creator of a work and to stop any detrimental use. But what happens in the real life is that these provisions are largely ignored because of the overwhelming power of those who make profit from authors’ work: the publishers. Thus, again, “rules” are the last needed thing in the world.

Of course (and hopefully) this Internet Bill of Rights will never be turned into a real, parliament-passed law. Nevertheless shall become a political platform to ease the shift of the legal liability from the single users who commits a crime or is lazy in protecting his rights to the Telco Industry.

This is not acceptable.

The Government Censorship Machine Ready to Start?

Laura Boldrini, the leftwinger president of Italian Low Chamber (Camera dei deputati) has endorsed the settlement of a commission “for the Internet-related duty and rights”.

This commission is the tragical… sorry I meant “logical”, consequence of the dangerous “Internet Bill of Rights” campaign.

Given Boldrini’s attitude toward the Internet,  I do hope that this commission wouldn’t turn into a trojan-horse  to bash enterprise and individual rights.

The Internet Bill of Rights. A Dangerous And Useless Idea

Italy (or at least, a little but noisy group of old-school netizens, politicians and academics) is in pole-position at the race for the Internet Bill of Rights, a sort of “constitution” to grant “internet rights” to the people.

The Internet Bill of Rights is useless because doesn’t add a set of rights that we don’t own just yet, and is dangerous because, on the contrary, would add more confusion to a rather chaotic situation.

In the Western World we have plenty of rights such as: data-protection, personal privacy, free-speech, freedom of commerce, freedom for press, copyleft and copyright. But what we actually lack – in Italy for sure – is a FAIR ENFORCEMENT of these rights: the fundamental rights that are taken for granted on paper, when challenged in court or in the parliament are twisted and torched to meet the need of the moment.

Think of the ridiculous extension made by local courts first and then by the Corte di cassazione (the Italian Supreme Court) of the “seizure” legal concept up to including the Internet traffic filter, or the way the Italian Data Protection Authority is working as a censorship machine, taking over the freedom of press, the Communication Authority, that self-gave the power to shut down Internet resources accused of copyright infringement, without any judicial review or, yet, the Antitrust authority that has been given the power (that was supposed to be reserved for a judge) to tell as illegal a contractual provision between a professional and a consumer…

This is typically Italian: pretend to fix a problem by passing a law, and immediately forget to check whether and how is enforced. And when the “need” arises, the old joke comes into play: law is enforced against enemies, interpreted towards friends.

Boldrini (the Italian Low Chamber President) Asks For New Internet-related Regulation

Boldrini, a leftwinger, President of the Camera dei Deputati (the Italian Low Chamber), asked for a new set of Internet-related regulations during a conference whose aim was to advocate a (useless) Internet Bill of Rights.

Boldrini, that isn’t new in such exploit, enforces the old rhetorical technique of stating something as a general issue, while then making an exception that reflects the actual message. So, she says, the Internet must stay free BUT we do need to regulate it because of profanities, obscenities and violences available on the Internet.

Boldrini  isn’t the first and shall not be the last to endorse this wrong position – I’m in the field since more than twenty years (sigh!) and the song still remains the same no matter the singer – confirming what the late Giancarlo Livraghi wrote almost twenty years ago, back in the 1996, in his essay, Cassandra :

Ideas travel quickly; and bad ideas seem to travel even faster.
In Europe, we have an added problem: regulation from the European Union.
Several times (and especially after the “decency act” was declared unconstitutional in the United States) they promised publicly not to interfere with freedom on the net.
I don’t believe them.
In spite of that statement, they are working on all sorts of regulations, controls and censorship, lead especially by the French.
We know at least some of the areas in which they intend to act. Systems of electronic payment (as if they weren’t already solved); protection of copyright (what they really mean is the interests of large software suppliers, or publishers, or the entertainment industry); the fight against crime and “terrorism” in networks (that can lead to all sorts of repression of innocent people while doing very little about organized crime); “pornography” (and we have seen what that can lead to). Also privacy of personal data, which indeed should be protected; but we have seen how even that cam become the excuse for unnecessary, ineffective and repressive bureaucracy. Etcetera…

And then… there are the “rule maniacs”.
A certain type of law experts and legislators, who (even in a place like Italy, already plagued with 100.000 more laws than it can possibly need) want to increase at all times the number of rules and regulations, and make them as complicated as possible (also generating an increasing number of cumbersome and inefficient regulatory bodies…).

It’s this type of people that keeps spreading the concept of society at risk, of a net dominated by hackers and pirates, or (isn’t that terrible!) invaded by independent and uncontrolled information and opinion. Society is at risk, they say, when minorities have a voice, differences of opinion travel out of control, information falls into the hands of those “common people” who so far had to come kneeling to the shrines of Law and Order.

What Boldrini and her peers fail to acknowledge is that we do need to enforce the regulations already in place (after possibly having reduced its quantity) and not create again and again bureaucracy and confusion that don’t help citizens and prevent the market from working properly.

Mesh Networks and BBS. Re-inventing the Wheel?

An important Italian online magazine just “discovered” today the possibility to build a “parallel-Internet” by using WI-FI antennas, no need to purchase an access-plan and (allegedly) free form NSA’s peeping eyes. Of course, the buzzword is “revolution”.

I can’t stop being amazed by the candid ignorance of these contemporary “digital cognoscenti” or “digital natives”. They think that the ICT world was born with Facebook and that beforehand there only was a gravitational singularity.

Today only some mature former(?) geek can remember of the BBS Era and witness how does the world worked at those times: mesh networks are nothing but a way to create an independent network like Fidonet was; with the only difference that Fidonet was software-indepedent, while mesh networks might become hardware independent too. In this sense mesh networks are an evolution and not a revolution, and omitting the “r” at the beginning of the word makes a great difference.

But semantics isn’t the (only) issue to deal with. Why, somebody might in fact ask, should we be concerned by this granny’s style rant? Things evolve so do people: who cares anymore about relics such as Bocamodem or Fidonet?

Answer: because the experience of the BBS Era is the basis of all of the modern (social, political and economical) ways to exploit a network and a lot of answers to a lot of questions have already been provided. Just think of issues like online anonymity, forum posting liability, online free speech, online journalism: these are just a few examples of the topics that once were hot and today we still struggle with. The difference between yesterday and today is that the “old school” users were and are more conscious about the actual impact of technology in their own life, while the “digital natives” actually are part of a dumb generation of technology’s passive users. A condition that is everything but different than the one reserved to the human part of The Matrix: fuel for the machines.

The Danger of the New Crusaders and the Risk for the Medical Research

Repubblica.it, an Italian online newspaper, accounts for the cancellation of a fund-raising initiative to collect money for the research on rare disease. The cancellation has been motivated by the fear of riots provoked by animalist activists who object living animals to be used in medical research. This form of terrorism is a dangerous growing trend in Italy, and one of the reasons for this growing is that extreme animalism is not perceived as bad as its “political” sibling (thank to the support given by teen-agers oriented TV channels, politicians and artists.) I don’t see how the opinion of (former)models, self-professed experts with no impact-factor or citation-index or bloggers-on-a-mission should prevail over the facts stated by the major Italian research institution.

Anyway the consequence is that police authorities and the government aren’t taking seriously this issue letting activists to continue threatening the medical and biotech research in Italy. Of course I don’t claim that “every animalist is a terrorist” and I don’t want to enter into the semantics of both words. What I do not find fair is the justification for the use of violence in the name of an idea: the field of history is crossed by enormous rivers of blood because somebody bleieved to be absolutely right, thus taking the burden to “convert” those who disagreed.

As often happens in Italy, this is the result of the a confusion between “ethics” (that is a personal matter) and “law” (that is – or is supposed to be – a tool for balancing contradictory interests.) This confusion is likely to badly affects the feasibility of the scientific research in Italy. I still haven’t collected enough information about how big a disincentive this animalist threat is for the health companies who want to invest in Italy, but the very first hints don’t let imagine a bright future.

The Content Filtering Hysteria… again

According to the Italian online newspaper Repubblica.it, the UN-appointed expert Frank La Rue expressed concerns about the effect of an upcoming copyright-related regulation announced by the Autorità per le comunicazioni (AGCOM an independent, State-appointed body superseding the broadcast and telco secondary regulation) on of free-speech. AGCOM is trying since longtime to enforce the French HADOPI model in Italy to “fight copyright infringements”, pushing to self-assign the power to delete copyright infringing contents available on the Internet. With a rather while understandable (from a political standpoint)  convoluted prose Mr. La Rue said what a lot of people is saying: copyright is not a “gold right” and has no title to be given  an absolute stand over free speech and the other fundamental rights. But this is only a third of the story.

Second third: since, in Italy, copyright infringements are a criminal offense, only a magistrate can order both a content’s filter or removal. By letting the AGCOM act as a parallel “prosecutor and  judge” would means to invade the attribution of the judiciary system and endanger the the “due process” principle.This is not allowed by the Constitution.

Third third: copyright doesn’t only belong to broadcast companies, music labels and movie producers. Every Internet user who publishes a photo, a movie, a song or a text has the right to not be stolen of its intellectual property. The AGCOM proposed regulation doesn’t address clearly this issue so only two options are possible: either the regulation only cares of the big companies and that would be non acceptable, or, on the contrary, will be open to protect everybody – i.e. will become useless, since there will likely be a tide of claim.

The end of the story is that, whatever the power belonging to AGCOM, it can’t invade the prerogative of the Court, notwithstanding the supporting opinion received by the AGCOM from some legal scholar maybe not much familiar with the intricacies of the Italian criminal procedural code.

 

Search Engines and the Hypocricy of Filtering

Another step toward the end of the Google’s “we’re just a neutral platform, ain’t nothing to do with those who publish illegal content” defense: according to The Register Google and Microsoft agreed to tweak its algorithms to prevent child-pornography-related searches.

This decision has two downfalls: the first is that in the upcoming trial it will be harder for a search-engine company to pledge innocent against the accusation of direct or contributory infringement since Google and Microsoft made deadly clear that it is actually possible to “handle” the way its engines work. The second is that by targeting the search engine result as a way to counter illegal content only stops the “casual” and final user, while the real criminal will stay free to spread their venom. In other word, focusing on content filter is just a PR stunt to lead Average Joe in believing that the Gov’s are doing fine, so no more “public scandal”  on mainstream media will bother the Powers-that-be.

The criminals thank you all for the gift.

Street Photography, Right to be Alone and the Challenge of the Reasonable Privacy Expectation

Question: what does  street-photography has in common with Google’s indictment in the Mosley suit?

Answer: both challenge the balance between reasonable privacy expectation and the right to be informed.

There is a widespread attitude acknowledged by some European courts – namely, Italy and France – that grants legal protection to this alleged “right to be forgotten”. This is a rather dangerous attitude because following this path leads to the deletion of the collective memory of a culture: if Catilina were alive today, he would have had merit in asking his conspiracy to be deleted by the chronicle. Agreed, not everybody is a Catilina – or a public person whatsoever – but there is a shared principle in Western legal systems that separates what is public and what ought to be private. As soon as something falls in the former, there is not – or  there shouldn’t be – a reason to delete the information of its existence.

To provide an example of the absurdity of the enforcement of this alleged “right to be forgotten” on the freedom of (online) press I can quote a fact I’ve witnessed in person, professionaly. An online magazine has been targeted by a threatening letter from a law firm, asking to remove from its server an article talking about an acquittal – yes, acquittal – of a Mr. Somebody. The basis of the claim is not a falsity or an exaggeration – that would have been illegal, indeed – but the simple fact that this Mr. Somebody “didn’t like the news to be online.” Only the future will tell whether this case will end in settling new censorship’s standards, or if the Justice – once and if the issue will be taken in Court – will decide in favour of the freedom.

As per the relevant case law, after a couple of lower court decision that enforced this “right to be forgotten”, a Supreme Court decision ruled that there is no such thing as “right to be forgotten” when freedom of press is involved and the news is correct. The concerned person, nevertheless, has the right to ask the online newspaper to update the original news in case of some further development of the story.

With a rather unusual sense of balancement – when dealing with the Internet – the Supreme Court issued a reasonable decision that should stop any further attempt of erasing the History.