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Italy, one of the world's most wiretapped societies, having second thoughts

Italy, one of the world's most wiretapped societies, having second thoughts

In the most wiretapped Western democracy, Big Brother could soon get his ears plugged.
Premier Silvio Berlusconi, himself no stranger to being investigated by prosecutors, wants a law to restrict what he says has become an abusive practice _ one that infringes on privacy rights and weighs heavily on the taxpayer.
His government is working on a proposed law that could limit the use of phone intercepts to only the most serious cases involving organized crime and terrorist groups. There would be stiffer sentences for illegal taps and for officials who leak the content to the media.
Magistrates and opposition politicians, including a former anti-corruption prosecutor, have criticized much of the plan, saying many dangerous criminals would no longer be caught.
The proposed bill is expected to be approved by the government at a Cabinet meeting on Friday, and is then likely to face a stormy passage in Parliament.
Italy is one of the most wiretapped countries in the world, with more than 100,000 authorized taps each year, Justice Minister Angelino Alfano said Monday.
In contrast, Alfano said 20,000 people are wiretapped each year in France, 5,500 in Britain and 1,700 in the United States.
The number of wiretaps has steadily grown in Italy _ from 32,000 in 2001 to 124,000 last year _ and listening in costs the state more than euro220 million (US$340 million) a year, a third of the justice budget.
"If you multiply the number of people intercepted by the number of phone calls they make daily you get millions of people who are being listened to," Alfano said in an interview with Rome newspaper Il Messaggero.
The proliferation of wiretaps means newspapers often publish leaked intercepts involving politicians and VIPs who happened to be talking to someone under investigation.
The Big Brother climate is also seen as having encouraged illegal wiretapping. In 2006, scores of people were arrested, including the security chief of the Telecom Italia phone company, on charges of intercepting calls by businessmen, sports figures and politicians, including then-premier Romano Prodi.
Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, a respected figure seen as being above the political fray, favors a new approach.
"The issue is real," Napolitano said Tuesday. "There is a need to safeguard privacy and have a measured use of wiretaps."
But Berlusconi's plan has drawn the ire of opposition leaders who see it as a measure to limit the power of prosecutors who have also used wiretaps to investigate the premier himself on charges ranging from corruption to tax fraud. Some of the probes have led to trials but Berlusconi has never been convicted and has always denied the allegations.
Antonio Di Pietro, a former prosecutor who led a corruption probe in 1990s that brought down the ruling Christian Democrats and is now the head of a small opposition party, said the new law would be a "gag" for magistrates and that Berlusconi was pushing it through "for his own benefit."
Walter Veltroni, the leader of the largest party in the center-left opposition, said that with such limitations on the use of wiretaps "dozens of investigations would not have been possible and many crimes would have remained unsolved."


Updated : 2021-05-12 22:52 GMT+08:00