On October 28 the well-respected current affairs magazine L’espresso disclosed an ominous scoop: the police were to be allowed to spy on every Italian Facebook user without a preventive warrant.
The source was an anonymous Italian officer who told L’espresso journalist Giorgio Florian that an agreement had been secretly ratified between the most popular social network and the Italian police force, about two weeks before, in California. Thanks to this collaboration deal the police investigation department would be allowed access to the personal profiles of all 17 million Italian Facebook users, without a Magistrate’s warrant, which “would have hampered a prompt intervention on certain offences that, through the internet, spread far too quickly”.
In other words – if the leak is to be believed – such a move would represent nothing more than a show of strength suitable only for authoritarian and non-democratic states.
Indeed, as the news spread within a few hours across the internet, and alarmed journalists and bloggers started wondering whether it was well-founded or not, the Italian Police issued an official denial.
“There has been a misunderstanding” stated Antonio Apruzzese, director of the Information and Communication police department.
“The police are not permitted to access the profiles of Facebook users without a magistrate issuing an authorization or an international rogatory. Otherwise it would constitue a violation of the law”.
Indeed, it would also be a violation of the law against privacy and human rights.
Case dismissed? Not at all. L’espresso replied confirming everything and pointing out that their anonymous source is a police officer who claimed that he had been part of the Palo Alto delegation. “The officer described the agreement reached in California with big satisfaction and pride, being the first one in Europe of its kind”, the magazine reported.
In the same article, L’espresso also wrote that they contacted another police officer who confirmed that DIGOS agents (Division of General Investigations and Special Operations) have been investigating activist movements and football supporters groups for some time with no prior permission from magistrates.
“Digos have become masters in doing that. You just need a nickname to enter a chat. Using nicknames is not a crime”, the anonymous source told L’espresso.
Nevertheless, the Italian press seems to have been reassured by the police’s official denial, and the alarming rumour has since run out of steam. So should we unconditionally believe their version of the truth?
If a secret agreement was drawn between the Italian Home Office and the social network two weeks ago in Palo Alto, would the Italian government ever admit to it? I honestly doubt it.
Needless to say, the Italian authorities have never shown any sign of enthusiasm for the internet as a platform of open debate and participative democracy; on the contrary, they seem to be quite keen to use it as a means of control and abuse of power. Italian citizens are by now well accostumed to the frequent attempts to limit freedom of information on the web.
That’s why – without engaging in any conspiracy theory – we should analyse this news within the frame of Italian politics, the very same context which gave origin to a ludicrous ‘gag law‘ which have seriously threatened freedom of speech on the web for Italians. And how can one forget all the attacks towards the internet and specifically towards the social networks fired by Italian Home Office Minister Roberto Maroni?
Mr Maroni has, on various occasions, expressed his views on the threat that social networks would pose as a means to “incite violence”. In December 2009, following the physical assault on Prime Minister Berlusconi by a disturbed man, Mr Maroni openly attacked Facebook and YouTube. How did he suggest preventing this type of violence? Through a law, of course, which would have allowed him and his government to censor any Facebook profile, blog, video and any website of which they disapproved.
In light of such sheer political arrogance – and ignorance – the scoop unveiled by L’espresso doesn’t sound so outlandish; it’s certainly familiar ethical territory for Facebook, an organisation whose respect for users’ privacy has already become stuff of legend.
Read the article on Owni.eu