Italy has seen plenty of cyber bully and revenge porn lately. That’s why it wants to bring a new censorship bill into the world. But there’s a chance it will create problems and not solve them.
Proposta Di Legge n. 3139
The Italian Chamber of Deputies presented a bill [PDF] that is ambiguous, to say the least. Under this proposed law, the site manager of Italian media – which includes bloggers, newspapers, and social networks – are compelled to censor “mockery.” In this bill, the definition of mockery is based on the “personal and social condition” of the victim. That is to say, anything that the victim finds offensive or insulting. If the media doesn’t act to remove acts of mockery, the penalty is a fine of €100,000.
This bill won’t do much to stop bullying, harassment or revenge porn. The majority of Italians use services in other countries. People all around the world use services in other nations, like Google and Facebook. Corporations with Italian-based offices will most likely move, rather than pay a stiff €100,000 every time a person insults someone else online.
Under this bill, it will be easy to censor people without due process or a penalty for misuse. The only standard that the bill is based on is whether the recipient feels sufficiently offended or not. As an example, the Right To Be Forgotten practice that Google was hit with lets anyone use the tool to force Google to erase search results, even if there is no strong purpose for it.
Abuse of Power
Most cases of censorship involve fights over copyright. These cases base the decision to censor on concrete evidence. There is a lot of data that defines copyright that lets infringement experts clearly and objectively determine whether a copyright infringement has happened. Either that YouTube video used a copyrighted song, or it didn’t; there’s no weird middle ground of ifs, and or buts.
Not so with Italy’s law. It lets people make individual claims against supposed perpetrators. Is it possible to clearly define mockery? What if the victim is lying? In the case of cyberbullying, what if a person insults someone, but other people don’t find it insulting? Do you see the potential for abuse?
Like most other civil laws, this is bound to favor the wealthy and powerful. That is, those with enough money to afford civil litigation, or with enough corrupt influence to sway those in the legal arena.
Italian deputy Stefano Quintarelli – notably more internet-savvy than his peers – has proposed an amendment to this bill. Under the amendment, a failure to censor certain material won’t automatically result in a fine. Instead, it makes the party who ignored the complaint open to any civil penalty that a court may bring. While this is a step in the right direction, right now it just acts as a band-aid over a poorly thought out bill.