Italian Antitrust to storm on Google News?

Yesterday  the Italian headline news announced that the Italian Antitrust, following  claims by FIEG (Federazione Italiana Editori e Giornali – Italian Federation of Publishers and Journals), opened an investigation against Google, “charged” with discriminating against those publishers who had denied the availability of their content in Google’s News platform.

As I’ve pointed out in an interview by ANSA, this claim seems to stand on very weak legs.

As first, people use Google simply because it works. As soon as a (not necessarily new) search engine will prove to be more efficient, people quickly discharge Google.

Secondly: Google is not, by far, the only search engine to provide news search. People are not affected by a “locked-in syndrome” like in the operating system field: in other words, nobody has put a gun on the users’ temples to use Google.

Thirdly: the Internet economy is based on a quid pro quo, and the search engine sector doesn’t behave any differently. Publishers have contents, Google the technologies to make these contents available. If they join forces, publishers get traffic (i.e.: advertising), Google its part of the cake. If they don’t, they loose traffic and advertising revenues. That’s the Internet, honey!

Fourthly, let’s admit – for the sake of the discussion – that Google actually does what it is charged with. So what? As soon as the law is abided, Google is a private company, and the only people who can complain about its business strategies are the shareholders. I don’t see any reason whatsoever to force Google to look for specific content.

A final note: this situation is a typical demonstration of how “innovation” is “awarded” in Italy by the content industry. Instead of trying to unleash the power of new tools, the reaction of the traditional powers is to break it. It happened with software, it happened with music and video, and now with the Internet.

Faked DNA and Criminal Trials in Italy

“Authentication of forensic DNA samples” is a paper released on the last Forensic Science International: Genetics issue by a group of Israeli researchers. Authors claim to have found a method to fabricate artificial biological samples (and the way to tell the differences from the original one) and wish that their finding will become a standard in forensic procedures to maintaini “the high credibility of DNA evidence in the judiciary system.”

Does this method really affect criminal investigations and trials?

“We still are in the “bad cop” (or evidence tamperer) field who planted faked biological samples on the crime scene” – says Andrea Cocito, researcher at IFOM, Milan (IT.) In fact, the “fabricated-genetic-evidence defense” has been proven viable in the  OJ Simpson case tried between 1994 and 1995 in Los Angeles, USA. Mr. Simpson’s lawyers were able to raise the suspicion that the results of the analysys on the biological samples coming from the crime scene – aiming at Mr. Simpson as “owner” of the DNA – weren’t reliable enough because of the police handling lack of care. “If” – Cocito argues – “a biological sample has  really been found on the crime scene, if the sample isn’t planted and if it’s not been degraded, then I might analyze both samples (the crime scene one and the one belonging to the defendant) to see if I get a match. In these case, there couldn’t be reasonable doubts on the results.” Thus, matching the defendant biosample collected in a controlled environment with the sample found on the crime scene it is possible to tell the probability of a reciprocal match.

The actual problem, then, is not the intrinsic scientific reliability of a genetic analysis-produced evidence. The problem is the strength of the chain of custody (i.e. the possibility of tracking all the intermediary steps, from the crime scene to the Court.) It is evident that if during the journey some part of it is not verifiable, a possibility comes to arise a legitimate doubt that what came in Court might not be what has been found on the crime scene.

On this issue, Italian law n. 85/2009 that creates a local National DNA Database is very lazy. There is neither any explicit duty of guaranteing the chain of custody, nor a provision that prevent the use in Court of wrongly-handled biological samples.

This is the translation of an article I’ve written for Nova-IlSole24Ore. The Italian version is available here.

The Pirate Bay war. Does something changes for ISP’s liability?

The new episode of the Pirate Bay war leads to think that something is changing in judges’ mind in re: ISP liability. In the recent Swedish preliminary order neither is the final user the final target of a legal action, nor the ISP. The focus is on the sole and only possible defendant: the one who actually shares illicit contents (apart from the merit of the specific TPB case.) The ISP who provided the housing service for TPB torrent search engine has been ordered to “disconnect” the machine from the network and not, as in the previous episodes, to hijack users’ attempts to reach The Pirate Bay.

It is important to remark that in this trial the ISP is not involved as (contributory) defendant, but only as subject whose cooperation is – de facto – necessary to obtain the compliance to a court order. Thus, we face a situation where:

  • rights of innocent end users are not endangered by the activity of the copyright majors,
  • ISP’s role is not portrayed as those of an accomplish, supporter, or contributory violator,
  • the target of the legal action is focused on the (alleged) culprit.

Again, I don’t want to enter in the legal quarrel about TPB responsibility. What I want to stress is that – should the Swedish approach be confirmed – a step toward and actual respect of legal principles set by dir. 31/00/CE is made.

Italian NDNA database. The devil is in the details

On June 30, 2009, the Italian Parliament finally passed Law No. 85 that ratifies the Prum Convention and forms the legal ground for the creation of an Italian National DNA Database (NDNAD.)

Although this law might have benefited from UK and USA court experience in the field of DNA forensics, the current text indicates that neither British nor American case law have been taken into consideration. Furthermore, the law is flawed by a foggy understanding of the technicalities behind DNA profiling and sloppy wording that certainly will not facilitate the work of lawyers, prosecutors or judges. Just to highlight a few of these inconsistencies, it must be noted that art. 8 (Attivita` del laboratorio centrale per la banca dati nazionale del DNA – Activity of NDNA Database Central Laboratory) lacks any general provision that would oblige all the responsible parties to adopt serious and adequate security measures against unauthorized access, data tampering, and illegal handling of data and information. Continue reading