About Italy and freedom of speech

Those of you who follow my blog through a feed know that I never post stuff to any planet which is not strictly part of the topic of the planet itself. Unfortunately, this time I have a good reason for spreading this blog post outside of my own feed and give it more visibility.

I guess everyone is aware of the political situation in Italy these days and I won’t comment on it in this post. This post wants to be about a specific law which is trying to harm freedom of speech in the only place which is really considered free nowadays – the internet. All of my Italian readers hopefully know I’m talking about what has been defined “Legge Bavaglio”, which is probably not news to anybody following the Italian political situation.

As this law is about to be actual, a symbolic protest has begun on Wikipedia Italy, which shut down the site to demonstrate a possible effect of this new law. I want to be sympathetic not only with Wikipedia but also with some of my friends who did something similar to help raise awareness. Hence my blog, today, is dedicated to this very issue: needless to say that this very blog might be affected by the law itself.

Instead of trying to explain why this law is extremely dangerous for freedom with my own words, I’ll simply paste Wikipedia’s statement, which summarizes the issue way better than how I could ever do. If you care about freedom in software, you should care even more about freedom of speech: if this issue touches you, don’t be afraid of letting your voice be heard. For this reason, today, and as long as it will be useful, all of the posts in this blog, except from this one, have been temporarily removed.

From Wikipedia Italy:

Dear reader,

at this time, the Italian language Wikipedia may be no longer able to continue providing the service that over the years was useful to you, and that you expected to have right now. As things stand, the page you want still exists and is only hidden, but the risk is that soon we will be forced to actually delete it.

The Bill – Rules on Wiretapping etc., p. 24, paragraph 29, letter a) states that:

«For the Internet sites, including newspapers and periodicals delivered by telematic way, the statements or corrections are published, with the same graphic characteristics, the same access methodology to the site and the same visibility of the news which they refer.»

Over the past ten years, Wikipedia has become part of the daily habits of millions of web users looking for a neutral, free-content, and – above all – independent source of Knowledge. A new, huge multi-lingual encyclopedia, freely available to all, at any time, and free of charge.

Today, unfortunately, 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” (Wiretapping Act).

This proposal, which the Italian Parliament is currently debating, provides, among other things, a requirement to all websites to publish, within 48 hours of the request and without any comment, a correction of any content that the applicant deems detrimental to his/her image.

Unfortunately, the law does not require an evaluation of the claim by an impartial third judge – the opinion of the person allegedly injured is all that is required, in order to impose such correction to any website.

Hence, anyone who feels offended by any content published on a blog, an online newspaper and, most likely, even on Wikipedia can directly request to publish a “corrected” version, aimed to contradict and disprove the allegedly harmful contents, regardless of the truthfulness of the information deemed as offensive, and its sources.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Article 27.

(1) Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.
(2) Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.

During all these years, the users of Wikipedia (and we want, once more, to point out that Wikipedia does not have an editorial staff) have always been available to review – and modify, if needed – any content deemed to be detrimental to anyone, without harm to the Project’s neutrality and independence. In the very rare instances it was not possible to reach a mutually satisfactory solution, the entire page has been removed.

The obligation to publish on our site the correction as is, provided by the named paragraph 29, without even the right to discuss and verify the claim, is an unacceptable restriction of the freedom and independence of Wikipedia, to the point of distorting the principles on which the Free Encyclopedia is based and this would bring to a paralysis of the “horizontal” method of access and editing, putting – in fact – an end to its existence as we have known until today.

t should be made more than clear that none of us wants to question safeguarding and protection of the reputation, honor and image of any party – but we also note that every Italian citizen is already protected in this respect by Article 595 of the Criminal Code, which punishes the crime of defamation.

With this announcement, we want to warn our readers against the risks arising from leaving to the arbitrary will of any party to enforce the alleged protection of its image and its reputation. Under such provisions, web users would be most probably led to cease dealing with certain topics or people, just to “avoid troubles”.

We want to be able to keep a free and open-to-all encyclopaedia, because our articles are also your articles – Wikipedia is already neutral, why neutralize it?

The users of Wikipedia

The way forwards to a better world should be through freedom, and not through cutting it. In software, and in everything else.

EDIT: The blog is now back to normal – although this post will stay here forever.


~ by Dario on 5 October, 2011.

8 Responses to “About Italy and freedom of speech”

  1. I understand the desire to correct a situation in which it is easy to damage a reputation and much harder to restore it. However, attempting to correct this by somehow legally enforcing the truth is bound to end in a terrible mess. Wikipedia fosters something much more powerful – a culture of citation.

    If there is a culture of readers looking in an article for what the source of the information is and what that source actually says then we are left with a much more grown up attitude to truth and evidence which enriches free speech rather than restricting it.

    There is no “solution” to the problem of free speech vs dangerous or malicious misinformation, it is just a tension which needs to be managed.

    • I agree. Of course, there is something more to this law than the obvious consequences and the reason why it’s done, and to avoid being overly polemic I skipped that. But it’s pretty obvious for anybody following the news.

  2. Why is it.wikipedia.org under Italian law?

    It’s an Italian-language site, but that doesn’t mean that it has to fall under Italian jurisdiction. IOW, I can put on information offending Berlusconi on my personal blog, even if I write it in Italian (which I’m sure you’d help me with :-)), and there’s no legal handle for Signore B to force me to rectify that.

    Maybe the Wikipedia announcement’s purpose is to point at this threat to freedom in Italy…?

    • I don’t know about the details, but it’s being mostly done for raising awareness, just like I am doing now 🙂

    • I would not do that if I were you. You see you could face a law suit.
      Probably not in Italy but rather in the United Kingdom as the existing laws there would give the plaintiff an advantage, at least it was this way a few years ago. [See Sources]

      In any case I think it is very good that the issue of our freedom gets some public highlighting. More and more of our freedoms are (in the process of being) taken away of us in the name of security of health/physical integrity, of children, of the interests of rights owners (see ACTA) …

      All this makes our society shift even more to supporting corporations and ensuring that the police can enforce this against the will of its people.

      Question yourself: How can it be that more and more of our freedoms are taken away while exactly the contrary happens to corporations.
      Regulations? Only for the citizens which when have to pay for the “rescue” of companies that evaded taxes for decades …

      Sorry for the rant, but the way we are governed world wide pisses me off.


      • I sincerely appreciate your concern, but my situation is pretty different, as I am just putting my blog on “strike” explaining the reason, and I am not attacking directly anyone/anybody. It is meant to cause a disservice to all the readers, just like a strike would do. So I think the premises are quite different from those other cases.

        It’s hard not to be pissed off, btw.

    • @sebas: simple, if you’re not in italy, instead of fines and stuff, your site will simply be blocked, and your IP will be blacklisted from that point onwards. 🙂 so that’s a very effective censorship.

  3. @Dario I was refering to sebas entry, just to point out that there is a lot today that can be done about messages you don’t want to have on the internet. In the case of the UK law it had some really riduculous and frightning effects already.

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