Data protection in Italy: Loudly more of the same

By EDRi · January 28, 2009

(Dieser Artikel ist auch in deutscher Sprache verfügbar)

I am sorry to say that I am skeptical about “days” dedicated to this or that
cause or problem. They are often ignored, sometimes briefly celebrated,
rarely leave any relevant trace over time. There are so many that we shall
soon have one a week – and it won’t be more relevant than brunch on Sunday.

On the loud and confusing current debate in Italy about data protection, the
situation could be summarised in four words. More of the same. There has
been a lot of wiretapping (sometimes real, sometimes imaginary or
overstated) for over sixty years (actually also long before that, but it’s
reasonable to start from when Italy returned to democracy and freedom after
World War Two). And of course it extended to electronic
networks since the very beginning. It’s a notorious, though rarely
published, fact that there were legitimate police forces, as well as
“undercover” spies by secret services or private interests, including
scamsters and organised crime, lurking since the days when networking was
based on BBSs or newsgroups and the extended use of the internet was not yet

Privacy and data protection were practically ignored until a poorly
conceived law was instated in 1996, creating a bureaucratic body called
“Ufficio del Garante” that was supposed to be an “ombudsman” but, de facto,
has rarely done anything in that role, being much more concerned with
complicated and inefficient formalistic ruling and with occasional attention
to the specific cases of politicians or “famous people” being
embarrassed in their “privacy” or spied in legal or illegal ways.

The currently loud debate is more confusing than it is meaningful. While
everybody is saying that it’s about the rights of citizens, the truth is
that it relates to the conflicting interests of politicians and mass media.
There have been, over the years, many episodes (and discussions) about
intercepting private telephone conversations, or online communication –
sometimes legally, sometimes not – including some invasive spying done
secretly by individuals or departments in telecoms – in addition to ISPs
being forced by authorities or police to spy on their customers. Another
source of aggressive debate is the “leaking” to the press of recorded
conversations, including private dialogues unrelated to any criminal

At this stage, it’s hard to understand what is actually happening and what
may happen in the next few days or weeks – or maybe never. Italy’s Prime
Minister has publicly announced that he will make “shattering revelations”,
but we don’t know if and when he, or some government spokesman, will
actually do so – and what the “scandal” might imply. There is threatening
talk about new legislation, but so far no indication of what, when and how.
Also the issue of data retention is discussed in contradictory and confusing
statements, some proclaiming the need to extend it in size and time and some
saying the opposite (more for the cost and organisation problems of
generating and maintaining vast databases than for the protection of
citizens’ privacy).

Is this just more inconclusive noise, as has happened many times, or will it
lead to some action on a national scale or (as has been suggested) as
recommendations to the European Union and/or on a wider international scale,
maybe including the G8 meeting to be hosted in Italy in July 2009?

Quite simply, we don’t know. And, as far as we can tell, nobody (so far) has
a clear idea of what those rulings or suggestions might imply. There may be
some news in the next few days, or it could take much longer, or it could
vanish (if only for a while) from the political and media scene as other
priorities prevail. Right now, we can only wait and see.

EDRi-gram: ENDitorial- Seizures and other abuses – from bad to worse

ALCEI – Data Retention

Data retention – not only a privacy issue – Civil rights and ambiguity of
crime “prevention” (24.01.2004)

Internet freedom, privacy and culture in Italy (and the activity of NGOs)

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