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?

Only a journalist can run a website in Italy?

On May, 8 2008 the Court of Modica (Sicily) ruled that a website identified by a “heading” and publishing contents on a periodic basis is subjected to the regulation of newspapers or magazines and – in general – or in  press.

The result is that an anti-mafia webmaster has been indicted for committing the crime of “clandestine publication” because he didn’t request the Tribunal’s authorisation to publish his site www.accadeinsicilia.net.

The “Catch 22” comes because to obtain this authorisation, this webmaster should have been a journalist, member of the national journalist association or the permit wouldn’t be granted. Then, nobody but a journalist can run a website, because nobody but a journalist can obtain the Court registration.

The legal paradox is a consequence of the fact that, before the internet came, publisihing a newspaper meant investing huge money in equipment, people, distribution etc. Thus it was easy for  “power” to control the press with a series of adminstrative burdens. Now, with the free availability of content management system like WordPress, and the low cost of internet-based services,  publishing a magazine is absolutely affordable. So the “power” – namely, Law 62/01 – tried in a very messy way to reassert its control over the information flow.

It is simply a nonsense affirm that since a website has a “heading” and publishes daily information, then it is a newspaper. Following this line of reasoning, it is enough – to not infringe the law – to “restrain” from publishing on due dates… Killing free speech starts from here.

Italia.it RIP

Italia.it, the infamous attempt of creating a State-managed one-stop touristic information website is definitely passed away on Jan. 18, 2008. The (now former,since the government just fell down) minister of innovation, Luigi Nicolais, finally decided to shut down the project and the minster of cultural assets, Francesco Rutelli, asked Corte dei conti (a magistrate court acting as “public spending watchdog”) to look for the responsibility for the waste of public money (5.800.000,00 Euros right now, to be precise).

Mr. Rutelli asked Umberto Paolucci – former Microsoft top manager in Italy and Europe – and now head of the ENIT (Italian Governement Tourist Board) to handle the issue.

Will open source technologies be take in consideration for the new super-duper portal?