Italy wiretap bill undermines freedom: UN expert

13th July 2010, Comments 0 comments

A UN human rights expert urged Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's government Tuesday to drop plans to curb wiretapping, saying such a move could undermine freedom of expression.

"I am aware that the draft law has been put forward due to perceived concerns regarding implications of publicising wiretapped information to the judicial process and the right to privacy," said Frank La Rue, the UN Special Rapporteur on the freedom of expression.

"However, the draft law in its current form does not constitute an appropriate response to such concerns, and poses threats to the right to freedom of expression."

Under the proposed bill, editors or journalists who publish transcripts of wiretaps can be fined up to 464,700 euros (590,000 dollars).

Anyone not accredited as journalists can face up to four years in jail for recording a conversation without the consent of the person involved, and publicising such information, noted La Rue.

"Such a severe penalty will seriously undermine all individuals' right to seek and impart information in contravention of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Italy is a party," said La Rue.

He also described the penalties as "disproportionate to the offence."

"These provisions may hamper the work of journalists to undertake investigative journalism on matters of public interest, such as corruption, given the excessive length of judicial proceedings in Italy," he said.

The UN expert asked the government to "refrain from adopting the draft law in its current form, and to engage in meaningful dialogue with all stakeholders, in particular journalists and media organizations, to ensure that their concerns are taken into account."

The controversial bill sparked a news blackout last Friday as journalists went on strike. It has also been criticised by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe which said it "could seriously hinder investigative journalism in Italy."

Italy's centre-right government says the measure is necessary for the protection of privacy, citing frequent leaks in the media of wiretap transcripts -- notably involving Berlusconi himself.

© 2010 AFP

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