By Guest author

One of the recurrent attempts to control the internet is the excuse of “child protection”. Italy has moved a step to this direction, and is going to release a new law against “cyberbullying” that confirms this new trend. This new project follows the same well-worn, failed approach.

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The draft has been modified by the Chamber of Deputies of the Italian Parliament, and will be discussed in the following months in the Italian Senate which was the author of the first draft.

The text, as amended, contains many worrying points.

First, the scope of the legislation has been extensively broadened: all the possible crimes that can be conducted online are included. If the purpose of the new legislation is to fight cyberbullying, the logic behind including other crimes is difficult to understand.

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These inclusions will only create legal uncertainty. How will a certain conduct be criminalised, and based on which law? Is the purpose of this law to actually fight cyberbullying?

Secondly, what raises more doubts is the clause related to the instruments that would be used for the enforcement of this “protection” against cyberbullying.

On one hand, a board of “experts” will be created to find appropriate measures to combat cyberbullying. Leaving aside the scepticism deriving from previous experiences with “expert” groups, the criteria to select the board is far from clear. The expert group should be able to elaborate appropriate measures to fight cyberbullying in only 60 days.

On the other hand, thanks to this new provision anyone who will feel hurt, defamed, harassed, stalked or offended by certain content will be able to act directly. They can inform the platform where the content appears, and ask for its removal. At the same time, the same person will inform the Data Protection Authority (DPA), who will control the removal of the content, and act directly to assure it after 48 hours, if the platform does not act as requested.

This new activity is likely to increase enormously the already high number of requests that the DPA receives. However, it does not foresee any increase to the DPA’s budget.

This specific measure will have two consequences: unilateral and arbitrary censorship of content, and a huge power for and pressure on platforms to act without any form of neutral examination. The consequences are unpredictable.

According to experts and journalists, the new project, assuming it will be amended by the Senate, is the result of non-evidence based digital policies. The internet, at least in Italy is rarely considered from a positive perspective, at least by the texts like this one – for example as a place or an environment useful also to improve the lack of digital literacy. Using cyberbullying as an excuse to regulating the internet by censoring inconvenient content, and by delegating the responsibility to private companies is an enormous threat to our democracies. The Italian Senate needs to stand up for its citizens, and defend an internet where rule of law and fundamental freedoms are respected.

Italy on the verge of the stupidest censorship law in European history (18.09.2016) https://boingboing.net/2016/09/18/italy-on-the-verge-of-the-stup.html

Cyberbullies in the Parliament (only in Italian, 07.08.2016)
http://www.ilpost.it/massimomantellini/2016/08/07/cyberbulli-in-parlamento/

The fight against cyberbullies is something serious (only in Italian, 06.08.2016)
http://scorza.blogautore.espresso.repubblica.it/2016/08/06/la-lotta-al-cyberbullismo-e-una-cosa-seria/

(Contribution by Alessandro Bruni, EDRi intern)

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