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.

 

Italy, Wikileaks and the disappearing journalism

As every country with “something to hide”, Italy (better, the Italian government) is concerned of what might be soon disclosed on Wikileaks.

As a preemptive strike against possible Wikileaks’ fallback yesterday an official press-release said – without explicitly mentioning Assanges’ website – that “the forthcoming pubblication of confidential reports about the USA politics, with possible negative side effects on Italy tooo – imposes a though determination to defend the Italian reputation as well the protection of economic and political interests of the country” (the translation is mine, I apologize for any mistake.)

I bet my ten cents that when the Italian File will be disclosed the first reaction will be to call for a new law to control the flow of information that endanger “national security” or whatever they name it.

Another interesting issue to remark is the (non)role of the Italian journalists in the whole story. It is, at least, odd that a remote-located website news service, with no apparent connection with the country, is able to get sensitive information about the Italian government, while the local journalists – and especially those who write about politics – don’t.

This is a bad blow to the role of the press as powers’ watchdog.

In the name of privacy…

If passed, a bill heavily supported by right wing Italian prime minister and media mogul , Silvio Berlusconi, will force the public prosecutors to wiretap suspect’s communication for a limited time and will punish harshly those who shares information related to a criminal investigation before the trial (that usually, in Italy, starts year after the alleged crime has been detected.)
This draft law is a ruthless attempt to shut down the check and balance system in Italy (thus, it is not a case that the bill is aimed at preventing prosecutors to investigate AND both traditional media and independent citizens to report information.)
That said, the reactions against the proposal were (and still are) short-sighted. Mainstream media talk about dangers for “bloggers” as if running a site with Drupal or WordPress actually gave a particular status to the information released. Technically speaking, whoever publish fake or offensive information is liable of his action. If those who commit the fact are journalists, then there is an additional liability for the editor-in-chief (in Italian: direttore responsabile.) Period.
I really don’t understand why a lot of “bloggers” complain for the (possible) introduction of a mandatory amendment of mistaken information. A law shouldn’t even be necessary, since it is matter of common sense to verify sources first and then, in case of error, fix it as fast as is possible.
Unfortunately, then, the criticisms against this law hit the wrong target, easing the work of the “Evil Forces”.

Protecting privacy. The abuse excuse

Right wing minister of Home Affair (Maroni – Lega Nord) and undersecretary of economic development (Paolo Romani – Forza Italia) are pushing aggressively ISPs and Telcos to adopt a self-regulation on illegal content basically meaning: the gov wants ISPs to shut down “illegal” content upon “simple” notice, to protect “human dignity” and “privacy”.
What’s wrong with that?
First: although the label is “self-regulation” it isn’t actually so. Self regulation is (or should be) a set of rules that a specific sector freely choose to adopt. On the contrary, the gov arranged a “definitive draft” (so they called it) with no actual room for discussion.
Second: in Italy all the crimes involving human dignity and political freedom can be prosecuted without the need of a specific claim. If a public prosecutor believes that a such a crime has been committed, he can start the investigation on his own. Thus, if a content is illegal, it is a prosecutor business, while if the content is strong although not illegal, like it or not is just free speech.
Thus, there is no (legal and technical) need for the ISPs to become a “private court” telling the right from wrong. But this is exactly what this alleged “self regulation” wants to achieve: just shut down those “annoying bugs”.
So, if there is no need for such “self regulation” why does the gov try to enforce it?
The main reason is that they wants people to believe that industry itself chosen this solution, because the gov hasn’t the courage to pass such third world legislation.
So, with the excuse of protecting privacy and human dignity, what the Italian goverment is actually doing is pushing ahead the quest for censorship.

Google’s executives indictment in Italy. Here are the reason’s why.

Finally the Court of Milan made public the opinion that backed the indictment of a couple of Google’s executives charged of Italian Data Protection Act infringement by not removing a violent video from the company’s video sharing platform, video.google.com. The opinion of the Court tells basically what I “guessed” in a previous post, (easy guess, BTW) while analyzing the charges against the managers.

Thus, to put it short, Google’s people have been indicted because they failed to verify, under the Italian Data Protection Act, whether all of the people depicted in the video positively consented to its upload. No matter that the service agreement bind the user to publish legally obtained content only.

As I’ve written and told in serveral places, this is a wrong decision.

Wrong in a legal perspective, for it set on ISP’s side an hidden duty of pre-emptive control over users’ activity.

Wrong in a social perspective, for it breaks the tie between a crime and its “author” and reinforces the idea of “faida” (the collateral vendetta of the ancient barbarians.)

Another commentary on the anti-Berlusconi’s Facebook groups quarrell

After the attack against Berlusconi several Facebook groups supported this insane action, while several others blame it. To this, Berlusconi’s political faction reacted in an hysterical way announcing legislative measures to prevent and block the “flourishing” of “hate speeches”.

As matter of fact, while in first instance the ministry of Home Affair announced some sort of “emergency legislation” to be quickly passed, the final choice has been to follow the standard – and quite longer – procedure. No public statements have been released to actually justify this shift, while a few background elements can help to understand why this happened.

Current Italian legislation consider as criminal offenses actions like: libeling, insulting, advocating or expressing support for a crime, inciting somebody to commit a crime, stalking, moral violence, illegal interference in somebody’s private life.
Public prosecutors have the power – on the snap of a finger – to seize and shut down whatever network resources located in Italy. Furthermore, a (questionable, admittedly) interpretation of “preemptive seizure” coming from the Criminal Court of Milan extended the legal concept of “seizure” up to allowing the release of an order against ISP to block the traffic directed toward a network resource located outside the Italian jurisdiction. The result is that to achieve what Berlusconi’s party aims, no new legislation is actually needed.

Nevertheless, at least to show some coherence, a draft law has been announced that should follow the path of previous right-wing made bills aimed at banning online anonymity.

The hidden – while clear – implication of this political strategy is to overrule the e-commerce Directive principle of non mandatory preemptive duty of control, thus forcing ISP and provider of Internet-based services (like Facebook or Youtube) to become automatically liable for the actions of their users.

An interview for Christian Science Monitor

Today I’ve been interviewed by Christian Science Monitor’s Italian correspondent about the possible crackdown on free-speech announced by the Ministry of Home Affair, Roberto Maroni (Lega Nord) after the attack against the Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi has been heavily supported by some groups on Facebook.

Here is the full article:

Berlusconi aides blame Facebook, internet after attack

Aides to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said Tuesday that social networking sites like Facebook helped inspire the man who attacked the Italian leader earlier this week, and proposed limiting free speach on the internet.

By Anna Momigliano Correspondent / December 15, 2009
Milan, Italy

The attack against Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who is now expected to leave the hospital on Wednesday, may have a surprising result: stricter controls on freedom of speech on Facebook and Twitter in Italy.

Members of the prime minister’s governing coalition are blaming Sunday’s attack, which left Mr. Berlusconi with a broken nose and two fractured teeth, on social networking sites.

Despite the fact that Mr. Berlusconi appears in a forgiving mood — in a message posted on political party’s website Tuesday he wrote “everyone should stay calm and secure. Love always triumphs over envy and hate” — one of his ministers has other ideas.

Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said he is considering tougher limits on freedom of expression and pledged to crack down on social networking sites that “instigate” violence against the prime minister.

Speaking to Parliament on Tuesday, Mr. Maroni blamed the attack on a “campaign of hatred” allegedly waged online against Berlusconi and said he feared an uncensored web might offer a platform for “a dangerous spiral of emulation.”

The internet is one of the few sources of news and information in Italy that aren’t subject to some form of control by Mr. Berlusconi. His family media empire owns one of the two major Italian news magazines, two daily newspapers, and three of the seven major TV channels. Three more of Italy’s major channels are run by his government.

While there are a number of independent newspapers, Berlusconi has sought to limit their room for maneuver, bringing lawsuits against newspapers that have reported on his extramarital affairs and allegations that he used call girls.

It’s not unusual for Italian politicians to blame violent crimes on the Internet, some say. “It has happened before. When something bad happens, the authorities’ first reaction is to tighten the grip on online censorship,” says Andrea Monti, a lawyer who also heads a group promoting freedom of expression on the web.

“That’s the most inefficient of reactions, for limiting freedom of speech harms honest citizens and makes fanatics happy,” says the lawyer. He compared the websites expressing their support to the attack on Berlusconi to those that deny the Holocaust: “No sane person can agree with them, but deniers love to be censured, they want to be turned into martyrs.”

Monti says censorship will make it more difficult for citizens to access the web, which he describes as a “powerful tool of democracy.”
Limits on free speech

Italy already has some of Europe’s strictest limits on free speech. There’s a law on the books, largely ignored, that requires most blogs to register as newspapers with the National Order of Journalists.

Another law, approved after 9/11, requires all internet cafes to examine their customers IDs and sets severe limits on the use of wireless connections.

“Honestly, I can’t immagine how Maroni can further reduce the freedom of expression online, given how bad the situation really is,” argues Monti.

Maroni announced he will have a draft proposal for new by Thursday, when the council of ministers is scheduled to meet. He refused to reveal any details ahead of the meeting. “It’s a delicate topic, concerning the freedom of speech on the web and [more generally] the freedom of expression in public,” he said.
Berlusconi’s recovery

Berlusconi was hit on Sunday evening, after a tense political rally in Milan. Massimo Tartaglia, a 42-year-old man with a psychiatric history, threw a replica of Milan’s main cathedral at Berlusconi’s face.

Berlusconi will be released from hospital on Wednesday, but his doctors have told him to take two weeks off before resuming his political activities.

Mr. Tartaglia reportedly sent a letter of apology to Berlusconi, describing his own actions as “superficial, cowardly, and ill-judged.” He also stated he acted alone and has no political affiliation.

Tartaglia may hope his public apology will save him jail time. Berlusconi pardoned a young man, Roberto Dal Bosco, who threw a metallic object at him in 2004. The prime minister was not harmed in the earlier attack.

Despite Tartaglia’s apology, several anti-Berlusconi groups gathered on Facbook and websites to turn him into a hero. One pro-Tartaglia site on Facebook attracted several thousand members.

By Tuesday afternoon, however, most of these groups were scrubbed from the site.

Original text available here.

Italian Politicians to storm the Internet

There is a disturbing trend in Italy. Every now and then, for the most various reasons, a politician feels compelled to propose a bill  “regulating” the Internet. 

In a previous post I addressed the issues arisen by Cassinelli and D’Alia bills in re: Internet censorship. A few weeks after, more colleagues followed their lead. 

Former showpersons – now MPs of Berlusconi’s party – proposes free speech and anonimity regulation “to protect minors” (but fact shows that they’re mostly concerned of copyright.) 

Between January and March 2009 Luca Barbareschi (actor) and Gabriella Carlucci (anchor woman), proposed two draft laws whose declared intent was to enforce copyright protection by shutting down civil liberties. 

Mr. Barbareschi proposal creates a “single point of cultural control” by granting the Italian State backed royalty collecting agency, the role of exclusive gateway between artists and market. Furthermore, Mr. Barbareschi’s draft law contains so loose statements about ISPs liability that the Government is allowed to do basically whatever he wants. 

More dangerous, if possible, is Mrs. Carlucci draft law that wants to ban anonymity from the Net, refusing even to consider intermediate forms such as “protected anonymity” (where the ISP act as trusted third party). Mrs. Carlucci want to establish a committee under the Communication Authority with power of interpreting Internet-related law (in Italy, only magistrates and the Parliament is supposed to), receiving “confidential notice” of infringement, acting as Alternative Dispute Resolution provider, counseling magistrates about the enforcement of preemptive activities ruled under rule of evidence code, like searches and seizure, termporary jail restriction etc.)

Again, on March 19 2009, MP’s Beatrice Lorenzin, Manlio Contento e Enrico Costa (all belonging to Mr. Berlusconi’s party) proposed a bill to filter minor’s access to websites suggesting though weight-loss techniques. Of course this was done to “protect minors”.

On the other (political) side, on March, 27 2009 Vincenzo Vita and Luigi Vimercati (both belonging to the Democratic Party),  proposed a bill to respect network neutrality and use open source in public administration. Oddly enough, this proposal comes too late, since both Mr. Vita and Mt. Vimercati ran institutional offices under the centre-left central Government and local administrations. When both Mr. Vita and Mr. Vimercati had the actual chance to do something effective, they did nothing, while their colleagues promoted proprietary software (Mr. Mussi as Minister of university and Mr. Nicolais as  Minister of innovation) and severely injured human rights by forcing Italian ISPs to block access to controversial websites, without a court order (Mr. Gentiloni, now Democratic Party, Minister of communication.)

Italy to ban on-line anonimyty?

A contribution for ALCEI.ORG
There is a disturbing, arising trend in Italy, of former showpersons now MPs of Berlusconi’s party to propose free speech and anonimity regulation “to protect minors” (but fact shows that they’re mostly concerned of copyright.)
Between January and March 2009 Luca Barbareschi (actor) and Gabriella Carlucci (anchor woman), proposed two draft laws whose declared intent was to enforce copyright protection by shutting down civil liberties.
To be clear:
Mr. Barbareschi’s Proposal is aimed at create a “single point of cultural control” by granting the Italian State backed royalty collecting agency, the role of exclusive gateway between artists and market. Furthermore, Mr. Barbareschi’s draft law contains so loose statements about ISPs liability that the Government is allowed to do
basically whatever he wants.
– More dangerous, if possible, is Mrs. Carlucci draft law that wants to ban anonymity from the Net, refusing even to consider intermediate forms such as “protected anonymity” (where the ISP act as trusted third party).
Mrs. Carlucci want to establish a committee under the Communication Authority with power of interpreting Internet-related law (in Italy, only magistrates and the Parliament is supposed to), receiving “confidential notice” of infringement, acting as Alternative Dispute Resolution provider, counseling magistrates about the enforcement of preemptive activities ruled under rule of evidence code, like searches and seizure, termporary jail rescrition etc.)
If approved, these (draft) laws will cause the concentration of power in goverrment’s hands, by weakening the possibility (or the right) to defend ourselves in Court.
Another step toward the ethical state?