Frattini among the winners of Italy's 2008 Big Brother Awards
On 10 May 2008, during an e-privacy convention in Florence, the Italian Big Brother Award winners were announced. Organised by the Progetto Winston Smith in co-operation with Privacy International, the awards involved 26 nominees (21 for six negative awards and five for the only positive one), and winners deemed to represent a threat to privacy included the Italian finance and economics ministry, former JHA commissioner Franco Frattini and the carabinieri's Parma-based Reparto delle Investigazioni Scientifiche (RIS, scientific investigations section). The "People's Complaint" award was not granted.
The award for the worst public body was won by the finance and economics ministry because, although it already has very wide control instruments, powers to investigate and the reversal of the burden of proof for tax-payers, it has recently been strengthened through large-scale databases (in fields including health services and banking), described as an "unacceptable shortcut" that violates the privacy of millions of honest citizens, rather than carrying out checks on obvious and widespread illegal practices. Moreover, provisions allowing extensive data collection in relation to the purchasing of medicines using the health service or independently are viewed as practices whose potential "negative consequences are unlimited". Finally, to counter tax evasion, the government is deemed to have activated "population control systems that are worthy of totalitarian states".
The worst private company award was won by Yahoo, as a result of "pervasive monitoring of Internet users carried out for commercial purposes" that experts consider to be the worst in the field, tracking practices that are not even matched by competitors such as Google and Microsoft. It has provided the Chinese government with data on users in "undercover" fashion that was used for repressive purposes, something that it denied when asked by the US government about the matter, before its CEO Jerry Yang had to retract the denial, leading to a fine for lying to Congress, not for helping China to imprison dissidents.
The most invasive technology award was won by the DNA database of the carabinieri's scientific investigation section (RIS) in Parma, which was set up in the absence of specific legislation (see Statewatch vol. 16 no. 2, March-April 2006, "Italy: Carabinieri hold an illegal DNA database"). It is characterised by secrecy, as it is not known how many samples it contains, how it is used, who has access to biological samples and databases containing DNA test results, and following what procedures. The RIS and its equivalent unit in the national police (Polizia Scientifica) are described as longstanding supporters of a DNA database that should contain the profiles of as many Italians and third-country nationals as possible for anti-terrorist investigations and preventive activity. Colonel Luciano Garofano of the RIS dismissed concerns about the DNA database over privacy "Fear of violating privacy cannot be an excuse not to pass a law. After all, freedom comes through security. And here, we are talking about the security of Italians".
Television talk show presenter and journalist Bruno Vespa won an award for treating a theme such as the Internet "in a superficial and ill-informed manner, contributing to reinforce a negative view of this technology and favouring popular acquiescence towards measures" deemed repressive and involving censorship. He is accused of misinforming the public in his "Porta a Porta" political talk show about new technologies, the Internet and their impact on privacy and young people's development "through alarmist claims based on false clichés and unfounded theses", on 22 February 2008, with the assistance of an expert, Dr. Graziottin. This contributes to turn Italians away from new technologies without considering the negative effects for viewers' culture and for the Italian economy, which already lags behind Europe in this field.
The "lifetime menace" award was won with the highest number of votes among all the prizes by the former Justice, Freedom and Security Commissioner, recently turned Italian foreign affairs minister, Franco Frattini. In this role, he is viewed as having promoted:
"an idea of security that, in violation of citizens' freedom and harmfully for justice, envisaged the 'monitoring and censorship of dangerous words'".
He is criticised for consistently supporting positions deemed "uncivilised and liberticide", such as the filtering of web contents to find terms related to "terrorism" and as continuing his tireless work for the repression of freedom.
The "Winston Smith - privacy hero" award was won by "Autistici/Inventati", a privacy and civil liberties group and service provider that has carried out a tireless and worthy activity as a provider of communication services that are "far more respectful of privacy than commercial or institutional ones", in a voluntary manner and free of charge and in spite of economic difficulties and a devastating IT intrusion justified as part of judicial investigations (see Statewatch news online, July 2005, "Police obtain wholesale access to encrypted e-mails and internet discussion groups used by activists"). It reacted in a positive and creative fashion to these difficulties, and continues to provide an option for people who feel they must defend and protect their online privacy, with limited resources, in an attempt to offer a structure that is resistent to attacks and censorship.
Source: Big Brother Award Italia 2008: http://bba.winstonsmith.info/
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