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ENDitorial: Seizures and other abuses - from bad to worse

22 October, 2008

(Dieser Artikel ist auch in deutscher Sprache verfügbar)

Two recent episodes (that are not "isolated cases") show, again, how distortions in Italian laws and in their application can lead to all sorts of abuses - as discussed before. The problem is that these abuses are not only continuing, but getting worse.

One is explained in a recent article and is obviously (no matter how it's disguised) a case of censorship.

The other case we are discussing here, if taken as a single episode, could be seen as a comedy of errors. A website for the exchange of music was "seized" - that is to say, access was blocked. It was soon moved to another address, and later the "seizure" was revoked. So it didn't suffer any serious damage and it may have gained some publicity as a result of the protest in Italy and elsewhere caused by the attempt to choke it. The instigators of the repression (as usual, the lobbies of music majors) were (in this case and so far) defeated and ridiculed. But the procedures in this grotesque affair reveal several alarming abuses.

Many problems, for many years, have been caused by an awkward peculiarity of the Italian legislation, that treats copyright infringement as a criminal offence. And it has always been an awful abuse to seize computers, servers etcetera with a brutal procedure that is useless for investigation purposes and dramatically harmful not only for suspects who are "innocent until proven guilty", but also for people and organizations who are not involved in the facts (or assumptions) being investigated.

In recent years this abuse has taken a new twist, that queerly extends the "seizure" concept to the suppression of a website or if, as in this case, the website isn't in Italy, to force Italian internet providers to block access (or even, as in this example, to arbitrarily re-route the "traffic" to another foreign website, dedicated to persecuting people who are trying to access the blacklisted source).

It would be dangerous to underestimate the implications of these behaviors, too easily supported by internet providers, who care about their selfish interests above the rights of their customers. They go far beyond the consequences of individual episodes, suggesting criteria and procedures that can be extended to the repression of any unwelcome opinion or information, as well as of enterprises competing with "favored" interests.

To make things even worse, in this case the attack was on a site that doesn't offer file sharing, but information on where resources can be found. This could lead to the absurdity of turning not only connection providers, but also search engines, into censors, spies and "sheriffs" of the net for inquiries and prohibitions originating in any country and extending beyond its borders.

In a "package of rules" recently approved (September 24, 2008) by the European Union Parliament "measures that would have allowed a control on internet users were rejected." Specifically, "the MEPs rejected the idea that ISPs should filter all downloads and punish the infringers of copyright rules, being thus transformed into a sort of online police."

Of course it remains to be seen if and how "good intentions" will be applied, but in the meantime Italian authorities, once again, appear to be peculiarly prone in obeying the whims and wishes of the "owners of ideas" and not as careful as they should in ensuring freedom of opinion and civil rights.

An update on the Italian PirateBay case (8.10.2008)

The European Parliament voted the Telecoms Package (8.10.2008)

ENDitorial: A stupid law and a perverse "criminal" sentence (24.09.2008)

(contribution by Giancarlo Livraghi - EDRi-member ALCEI - Italy)



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