Wikipedia pulls Italian version in protest at wiretapping laws

Wikipedia has taken its Italian language version down in protest at new privacy laws before Italy’s parliament. The draft law would oblige websites to amend content within 48 hours if the subject is deemed harmful or biased. Wikipedia said their Italian version may be no longer able to continue. “As things stand, the page you want still exists and is only hidden, but the risk is that soon we will be forced by Law to actually delete it,” Wikipedia said. “The very pillars on which Wikipedia has been built – neutrality, freedom, and verifiability of its contents – are likely to be heavily compromised by paragraph 29 of a law proposal, also known as ‘DDL intercettazioni’.”

The Italian Parliament is debating DDL intercettazioni which requires all websites to publish a correction of any content the applicant deems detrimental to his/her image within 48 hours without comment. Wikipedia said the law does not require a third party evaluation of the claim and anyone offended by online content has the right for a correction unaltered on the page regardless of the truth of the allegation. Wikipedia said this law would distort its principles and would bring to a paralysis of the “horizontal” method of access and editing, putting “an end to its existence as we have known until today”.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi introduced the draft bill in 2010 saying it was needed to protect the rights of private citizens. The bill restricts the right of police and prosecutors to plant bugs and record telephone conversations and proposes fines for journalists publishing transcripts of recordings. Journalists across Italy went on strike in July 2010 in protest at the laws. Head of the Italian journalists union, Roberto Natale said the real objective was to prevent reporting of judicial cases with high political impact, “the ones that can generate, and have generated, embarrassment.”

Reporters Without Borders strongly condemned the law. They said the laws went beyond just the national domain. “It would send a disastrous signal to other countries and would encourage dictatorships to use it as a model for restricting the investigative capacity of their local press with even more dramatic consequences,” RSB said. They said telephone taps were often the main evidence in support of stories about corruption and organised crime. “The sole practical aim of this bill is to prevent any investigative reporting.”

Berlusconi has been the victim of several wiretaps. Most recently judges released wiretaps at the conclusion of an investigation into Gianpaolo Tarantini, who paid women to sleep with the prime minister at his home. The wiretaps revealed a man with a large sexual appetite but whether this is something for the public domain is debatable. Berlusconi didn’t think so. “My private life is not a crime, my lifestyle may or may not please, it is personal, reserved and irreproachable,” he said.

Italy is the wiretap champion of the western world. In 2005 Italian mobile operator TIM issued a fax to all Italian public prosecutors they have already over-stretched their capacity from 5000 to 7000 simultaneously intercepted mobile phones and had now reached their limit. In 2004, Italy orders 172 judicial intercepts per 100,000 inhabitants.

After being bogged down for a year, debate on the bill resumed on Wednesday. Centre-right politician Giulia Bongiorno sponsored the law through parliament but disowned it after Berlusconi’s PDL party added an amendment to see journalists jailed from six monthsto three years if they published “irrelevant” wiretaps. Bongiorno said she no longer recognised anything in the text of the bill and blamed the changes on Berlusconi’s intervention. The UK Independent says the parties have reached compromise to see the law applied only to registered online news services and not to amateur blogs. That compromise was not good enough for Wikipedia.

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