Italy To Enforce A Global Censorship Legislation?

a contribution to European Digital Rights Intiative‘s bulletin, EDRI-Gram

The Italian Senate approved – and the Camera dei deputati (Italian “Low Chamber”) is ready to finally pass – draft law 733 named Pacchetto sicurezza – “Security Package”, a series of (supposely) coordinated provisions aimed at improving, whatever that means, police bodies and public prosecutors powers.
Of course, the law wouldn’t have been complete without “taking care” of the Internet, and legislators didn’t lose the chance. Under sect. 50 bis of this forthcoming law, if a public prosecutor has “serious circumstantial evidence” of a criminal online activity (to be specific: inciting crime) he can ask the Minister of Home Affairs to issue a “shut down” order. This order, aimed at ISPs, simply shut down the “concerned” network resource with no trial. ISPs refusal to comply with Minister’s order should be fined with a penalty up to 250 000 Euros.
The provision is clearly flawed from a constitutional standpoint. The basis of every western democracy, indeed, is the separation of power, thus is not legally possible to have such a cross-jurisdiction mess between the public prosecutor (the judiciary power) and a Ministership (the executive power). Furthermore, there would have been a double trial for the same fact, one of which (the Home Affair Ministership one), done without the legal guarantee of a criminal trial (fair process, etc.).
But this is only the tip of the iceberg. Crime-inciting wrongdoing is very difficult to handle, since the border between free-speech and law violation is often blurred (would a website supporting freedom fighter of a country be – per se – inciting to commit crimes?). Furthermore, if ISP’s must prevent access to a network resource located outside their network (abroad, for instance) this would mean that the result will be achieved through deep-packet inspection, or similar, privacy threathning techniques. Thus – with the excuse of “protecting” Italian citizens – the D’Alia amendment (named after the MP that proposed it) is likely to be the first step toward a global censorship system. A Cassinelli amendment (again, from the MP name of its author) that followed the D’Alia one, tried to circumvent the above mentioned problems, but with no real changes in the substance of the matter and the political, net-phobic approach.
Italy had a “sound” tradition in trying to enforce citizen’s global surveillance systems through ISPs and telco operators, adopting every sort of justifications (from copyright, to child pornography, to online gambling and now to crime-inciting actions). Oddly enough, nevertheless, these “good intentions” fell always on innocent citizens’ shoulders, while true criminals stay absolutely free. Or, to put it straight: to (maybe) catch a few criminals, the whole nation network usage will be subjected to “third parties” – namely, ISPs – systematic scrutiny.

So long, human rights.

Towards the ban of encryption

A BBC report pushed Italy into international hype, for Mr. Maroni (Lega Nord) Ministry of Home Affairs, backed by a group of public prosecutors, started an aggressive campaign against Skype, claiming that organized crime uses this software to protect their illegal activities. This is a clear shift towards encryption’s outlawing – or limitation of its use – that will negatively affects both human rights and private sector activities.

Italy has a “strong” tradition in trying to ban encryption. Key recovery and/or Key Escrow related issues were debated at least since 1995 A draft of one of the many amendments (not included in the final text) of copyright law known as “legge Urbani” tried to establish the principle that using encryption to protect P2P connection deserved a stronger punishment. If passed, this would have been the first provision outlawing the use of encryption.

The problem, nevertheless, is not limited to Skype. Mr. Maroni, launched a global initiative to “seize” technology from users. He first asked Telcos to provide their customers with static IP only (to better identify persons), then he pushed for the adoption of a National DNA Database because he got “reliable information” that in Italy there is a criminal mob dealing with human organs selling, then – all of a sudden – he become concerned about Skype…

It is unlikely that Mr. Maroni claims hide a “global plot” to kill human right. The truth is more sad: magistrates have scarce investigative resources, untrained law enforcement officer (not all, of course), insufficient monies, an erroneous belief that technology-based investigation is a good shortcut.
Basically, they’re scared by technology and – in a Pavlovian mood – their automated reaction to things like Skype is “forbid”, “ban”, “takeover”.