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Telecommunications agency poised to assume arbitrary Internet filtering powers

(RSF/IFEX) – 5 July 2011 - Reporters Without Borders is concerned that Italy's telecommunications agency AGCOM is planning to vote tomorrow on a resolution that will give it the power to block websites and remove online content that allegedly violates copyright without referring to a judge.

"The Italian authorities are setting up a system for Internet filtering without referring to the courts, thereby forgetting that the right to receive and impart information under article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights encompasses the Internet, and ignoring the guarantees that should be inherent in the exercise of a fundamental right," stated Reporters Without Borders. "After several attempts to establish this kind of control failed in the Italian parliament, the authorities are now trying to sidestep the democratic process by having them adopted by a body whose chairman is appointed by the Italian prime minister."

If AGCOM adopts the resolution, a website suspected of violating copyright will be asked to remove disputed content within 48 hours. If it does not comply, the website and the company claiming copyright over the disputed content must appear before an AGCOM panel within five days. No judge will be involved and no appeal against AGCOM's decision will be possible. At the end of the five-day period, AGCOM will be able order the removal of the disputed content or, if a foreign website is involved, block access.

The obligation to remove content could lead Internet operators to practice a former of preventive censorship in order to avoid AGCOM proceedings, giving rise to private-sector policing of the Internet. A French government draft decree with similar intentions was condemned last month by France's National Digital Council.

By allowing AGCOM to give itself this authority, the Italian government is circumventing the caution of the Italian parliament and violating the principle of the separation of powers.

AGCOM, which was given regulatory powers under a 1997 law, is about to give itself the power to impose sanctions and to place itself as the centre of all proceedings, acting as both plaintiff and judge. In public consultations prior to tomorrow's vote, most of the participants opposed the move.

The creation of a government agency with the power to filter the Internet without judicial oversight has been condemned by United Nations Special Rapporteur Frank Larue in a report on online freedom of expression.

Reporters Without Borders urges AGCOM to abandon this plan and instead to guarantee Net neutrality.

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