Italy’s attempt to censor over 500 websites


In the recesses of the 2006 budget approved by the Italian parliament (pdf) a curious element was found to be lurking at §536 (!), and its effect started to be felt around mid february: Internet censorship in the heart of the EU. China, Saudi Arabia, Yemen are more frequently found in articles or blog posts that tell stories of political discrimination, and censorship over the Internet. France, and Germany have been mentioned in the past over items that concern local legislation regarding nazi memorabilia sold on Yahoo!, and eBay listings… It looks like now it is Italy’s turn to pretend that virtual walls can be erected to impose the local interpretations of freedom, and democracy on its nationals. And it is a concern about national monopoly on sports betting…

I don’t bet, and quickly get bored in Vegas around slots, or blackjack tables, but this issue perked me up, and I was very surprised to see that there wasn’t a lot of coverage, either in the local online press, or the international blogospere.

The issue from a local legal point of view looks clear-cut: the monopoly of the gaming activities in Italy is assigned by law to the AAMS government organization, which has to authorize those entities which want to let Italian bet on lotteries, sports books, etc. Even the US is in a similar situation regarding online gaming, which has been living in a legal grey area for several years. This hasn’t stopped UK gaming companies to go public on healthy revenues, and invest heavily on television advertising in Italy up to recently. Based on a complaint by Sisal apparently, one of the authorized and State owned Italian gaming companies, now this is a grey area no more, and with the March 1 deadline passed, all Italian ISPs are required to implement filters that censor the visits to the over 500 ‘illegal’ websites published by AAMS, on the penalty of a fine that can go over 100.000 euro. The AAMS invented a newspeak term for censorship, calling it ‘inhibition‘. When you visit any of these sites now you are shown the following terse alert:

Here viewed in the attempt to visit www.sports.com

Well, the Internet perceives censorship as a network failure, and quickly routes around it, so here is the same site thanks to the Google translate English to English hack:

Isn’t this pitiful? All over the world people are risking imprisonment for their free speech over the Internet, huge discussions emerge on how corporation might attempt to shape the future behavior of entire countries, basic civil liberties are at stake on what rigths governments have over their citizens… And Italy finds its place in this global discussions through a failed attempt to make sure that the profit from people who like to gamble goes excusively to the bloated and inefficient state monopoly striving to survive against all odds.

The freedoms of movement of people, and ideas that the EU promoted clash with this provincial behavior, as companies that have been legally licenses to operate all over the EU are now powerless to connect with their Italian customers.

I asked our ISP if they were expecting to be subject soon to further arbitrary acts of senseless legislation, and after a nervous laugh I was told “Not for the moment, but we can never be sure”.