UN expert criticizes proposed Italy wiretapping law

UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression Frank La Rue on Tuesday 13 July criticized an Italian draft bill (in Italian) that would restrict the use of wiretaps and criminalize the reporting of wiretap transcripts by the news media.

The proposed law covers surveillance and eavesdropping in criminal investigations, but some observers are concerned it may limit the work of journalists and impinge on freedom of expression. La Rue urged the Italian government to either abolish or substantially revise the bill, warning that if it is adopted in its current form, it could significantly suppress freedom of expression in the country.

Under the proposed legislation, a three-judge panel would be required to grant a wiretap, and the wiretap would only be valid for a two-month period. The proposed law would sanction the imprisonment for up to four years of anyone who records any communication without consent, unless the person doing the recording is accredited as a journalist. The same penalty could be imposed for publicizing information obtained by such recording. Other provisions establish penalties of up to 30 days in jail and a fine of up to €10,000 for journalists and of €450,000 for publishers for publicizing the contents of leaked wiretapped materials prior to the commencement of a trial.

La Rue expressed concern about the penalties journalists would face under the bill and the effect it would have on investigative reports on matters of public interest like corruption. He also cautioned that the penalties proposed under the bill would, “seriously undermine all individuals’ right to seek and impart information” in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Italy is a party. The Italian Senate approved the bill last month. The bill must be approved by Italy’s lower house of parliament before it becomes law.

(JURIST) The Italian bill has been extremely controversial. Supporters of the bill claim it is necessary in order to protect privacy and curb the excessive use of wiretaps. The bill has been widely criticized by members of the media and prosecutors who contend the bill is aimed at protecting high-ranking officials, including Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who are often the focus of wiretap investigations. Opponents also contend that the bill would weaken the ability of the judiciary to conduct investigations, including investigations into organized crime.

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