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Senate approves restrictive wiretap law

(IPI/IFEX) - Vienna, 10 June 2010 - A controversial law curbing wiretaps and imposing heavy fines on journalists who publish leaked "wiretap" material was passed today by the Italian Senate. The president of the Italian Senate announced that the much-debated wiretap law had been approved by the Senate with 164 votes in favour. Of a total 323 senators, only 189 were in the room when the bill was voted on. Representatives of the opposition coalition, which believes the law violates fundamental rights, had left the room in protest.

"We needed a good law to protect the privacy of everyone involved in legal proceedings. But your law is not this," Anna Finocchiaro, Leader of the opposition Democratic Party in the Senate, told representatives of the ruling coalition ahead of the vote.

The articles of the bill "protect the criminals and kill freedom of information," Finocchiaro added, before announcing that representatives of her party would leave the room to protest the "massacre of freedom" that they claimed would begin today.

The bill, which imposes strict restrictions on magistrates seeking wiretaps and on journalists' ability to publish leaked 'wiretap' material, has raised concerns that its implementation is being dictated by the desire of politicians to avoid embarrassing allegations about their private lives, rather than by the stated intent to protect ordinary citizens' privacy.

The law foresees a penalty of up to 450,000 Euros for publishers and 30 days in jail and up to 10,000 Euros for journalists who publish leaked material obtained through wiretaps before the beginning of a trial.

In addition, documents related to ongoing investigations may not be published in full, but only as an abstract. According to the draft law, publishers who flout this ban face a fine of up to 300,000 Euros.

Following the vote by the Italian Senate, the law must be voted upon again by the Chamber of Deputies and would then be brought in front of the Italian President for final approval.

"We are extremely disappointed that the Italian Senate has passed a law that endangers the free flow of information and the right of journalists to report on matters in the public interest," said IPI Director David Dadge. "IPI calls on Italy's Chamber of Deputies to refrain from signing the bill into law, and in doing so, to defend the principles of freedom of expression and information enshrined in the Italian Constitution."

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