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Proposed blogging law outrages Italian netizens

Gov backpedals after brouhaha prompts comparisons with Burma

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Italian bloggers may be required to register with a national database, unless an ambiguously-worded new law is amended before it comes into force.

Widespread outrage among bloggers and IT-savvy journalists has reached the mainstream press, and the government now appears to be keen to revise a draft law which has led politician Francesco Caruso to remark: "This is Italy, not Burma."

The law got its initial approval from Mr Prodi's Cabinet of Ministers in mid-October, as part of a package attempting to tidy up Italy's publishing-related regulations, and requires further approvals before coming into force.

According to many legal experts, the murky text of the law (pdf) can be construed to include non-professional, not-for-profit blogs and websites among "editorial products", giving them the same duties and liabilities as magazines and newspapers.

This would require even the lowliest Italian blogger or MySpace account holder to go through the hassle of filing personal details with the national registry of "communication operators" currently reserved for professionals of the publishing sector.

Besides its Big Brother-esque implications, this registration would also expose bloggers to penalties and jail terms if a blog post, or even a reader's comment, were considered libelous.

Ironically, the package was officially intended to simplify the paperwork and hassle currently required to run a magazine-style blog or site in Italy and to have access to state subsidies.

Not so, says leading Italian blogger and popular showman Beppe Grillo, who has spearheaded the protest against what he calls a "gag on the internet's mouth". This has prompted Undersecretary Ricardo Franco Levi, who wrote the law's text, to explain that the rules of application, to be drafted by the Communications Regulatory Authority, have yet to decide whether ordinary bloggers will fall within the scope of the new law.

Such reassurance has not stopped government ministers from trying to distance themselves from the controversy caused by the law they had just approved. Mr Gentiloni, the minister of communications, has acknowledged in his blog that the law "needs fixing".

Mr Di Pietro, the minister of infrastructures, has even called it a "liberty-killing law" in his blog post.

Accordingly, the chances of this law becoming effective in its current form are exceedingly slim, so there is no immediate cause for concern. The blog brouhaha may turn out to be another storm in a teacup, but it has certainly shown Italian netizens once again that their government is remarkably out of touch with the realities of the internet age. ®

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