Statewatch News Online: ALCEI - Electronic Frontiers Italy - The repression of civil rights with the pretext of terrorism

ALCEI - Electronic Frontiers Italy
Associazione per la libertà nella comunicazione elettronica interattiva

Press statement of 18 September 2005 [Statewatch translation]

The repression of civil rights with the pretext of terrorism

Once again, a worrying ambiguity in the Italian norms and in their implementation

A wide-ranging debate at a global level has clearly emphasized the need to prevent measures to combat terrorism from turning into a repression of civil rights.

Meanwhile, in Italy, some recent interceptions involving personalities that are well-known in political and financial circles have raised fears and concerns that have given rise to, among other things, public statements in favour of the rights of privacy and freedoms of all citizens. However, these words were not followed by action - and the legislative system, as well as actual practice, continues to develop in the opposite direction.

The "security package" (established by Law 155/05, of the Decree by the interior ministry of 16 August 2005, and by the interior ministry circular 55//05 of 29 August 2005), issued in the emotional aftermath of the terrorist attack on the London underground, has little to do with combating terrorism, and is more concerned with a further "turn of the screw" at the expense of the civil liberties of citizens and businesses.
Rather than -as would have been reasonable to expect - strengthening the role and powers of the secret services (so as to make them more effective at preventing the occurrence of massacres and other crimes) the Parliament has established a system which:

- subjects the public use of Internet services to the issuing of an authorisation by the police,

- uselessly vexes all organisations, and especially non-profit associations, by imposing complicated and expensive duties of control over the activities of their individual members,

- sets the obligation of preserving telephone and IT traffic data relating to communications (e-mail, chat, instant-messaging, Voice over IP) to be undertaken by operators and Internet service providers until 31 December 2007,

- establishes that traffic data can - in practice - be used for any kind of proceedings concerning criminal offences, even if they are unrelated to terrorist offences.

As is easy to understand, the political choice made by the Parliament moves clearly in the direction of a generalised increase in police powers in relation to the citizenry without, in relation to these super powers, providing for an increase in responsibility and sanctions for people abusing them - neither pre-emptive checks, nor implementation rules that may serve to make such abuses less frequent.

Moreover, the limits that are imposed on citizens are far from temporary. The obligation to store traffic data will continue until 31 December 2007, and it is obviously impossible to know what will happen after the deadline (and, especially, what will happen with the data that has already been stored prior to that date). But everything else (police permissions and a host more things) is destined to remain in force for an indefinite time - even after, in a hypothetical and welcome future, the threat of terrorism becomes less pressing.

Not all of the norms that have been laid down are useless or mistaken - like those establishing the duty of storing traffic data in such a way that it cannot be altered. Some of these could be hosted within a more effective and reasonable legal framework. But this does not change the fact that the "security package" has been issued on the basis of a substantial conceptual confusion that does not distinguish prevention from repression.
The measures that were voted in by the Parliament and the current Government are fundamentally repressive measures, that is, that they are useful once a crime has already been committed. But little or nothing has been done to adopt serious pre-emptive measures, capable of helping to avoid tragedies before they occur.

The substance of the matter is, thus, that with the excuse of terrorism - and of the consensus that can be easily obtained by "waving" that flag - new and more pervasive powers have been established for the police, whose implementation can be extended to all sorts of investigations that have nothing to do with the repression and prevention of criminal activities.

Full-text (in Italian) of the press statement by ALCEI, "Repressione dei diritti civili con il pretesto del terrorismo", 18 September 2005. Available at: Document accompanying the statement:

Previous Statewatch coverage: Analysis: Italy: Tough new anti-terrorist laws adopted (html) This analysis as a pdf file

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