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Italy: draft wiretapping law should be scrapped or revised, says UN expert on freedom of expression

GENEVA (13 July 2010) – The UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, Frank La Rue, urged the Italian Government to “either abolish or revise draft law 1415* on surveillance and eavesdropping for criminal investigations.” He warned that, “if adopted in its current form, it may undermine the enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression in Italy.”

According to the current draft, anyone who is not accredited as a professional journalist can be sentenced to imprisonment for up to four years for recording any communication or conversation without the consent of the person involved, and publicizing such information.

“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,” stressed the independent expert designated by the Human Rights Council to monitor the situation of the right to freedom of opinion and expression worldwide.

La Rue also expressed concern regarding the introduction of a penalty for journalists and publishers who publish the content of leaked wiretapped materials before the beginning of a trial. “Such punishment, including up to 30 days in jail and a penalty of up to 10,000 euros for journalists and 450,000 euros for publishers, is 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, as highlighted repeatedly by the Council of Europe,” the Special Rapporteur noted.

“I am aware that the draft law has been put forward due to perceived concerns regarding implications of publicizing wiretapped information to the judicial process and the right to privacy,” La Rue said. “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.”

Noting the nationwide demonstrations by journalists and ordinary citizens against the draft law on 9 July 2010, the expert recommended 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.”

“I stand ready to provide technical assistance to ensure that the draft law is in compliance with international human rights standards on the right to freedom of expression,” La Rue said. “I look forward to engaging with the Government of Italy regarding a possible fact-finding mission in 2011 to examine the situation of press freedom and the right to freedom of expression in Italy.”

Frank La Rue was appointed as Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression in August 2008 by the UN Human Rights Council. As Special Rapporteur, he is independent from any Government or organization and serves in his individual capacity. The UN first decided to appoint a Special Rapporteur to examine questions relevant to the right to freedom of opinion and expression in 1993. The mandate, since reviewed and extended in 2008, involves reporting annually to the Human Rights Council on issues related to freedom of opinion and expression.

(*) Progetto di Legge 1415: Norme in material di intercettazioni telefoniche, telematiche e ambientali. The draft law was passed by the Senate on 10 June 2010 and is pending approval by the Chamber of Deputies and signature by the President before it becomes law.

(**) Article 19 of the ICCPR states: Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.

OHCHR Country Page – Italy: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/ENACARegion/Pages/ITIndex.aspx