An Italian draft law on surveillance and eavesdropping for criminal investigations could jeopardize the work of journalists and threaten their freedom of expression, a United Nations independent human rights expert said today, calling for the abolition or revision of the bill.
According to the current draft, anyone not accredited as a professional journalist can be imprisoned for up to four years for recording any communication or conversation without the consent of the person involved and for publicizing that information.
“Such a severe penalty will seriously undermine all individuals’ right to seek and impart information in contravention of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [ICCPR] to which Italy is a party,” said Frank La Rue, Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression.
He also voiced concern over a new penalty for journalists and publishers who publicize the contents of leaked wiretapped materials before the start of a trial, an offense that can result in up to 30 days in jail, as well as a fine of up to €10,000 for journalists and €450,000 for publishers.
“Such punishment,” the expert said, “is disproportionate to the offence.”
He cautioned that “these provisions may hamper the work of journalists to undertake investigative journalism on matters of public interest, such as corruption, given the excessive length of judicial proceedings in Italy, as highlighted repeatedly by the Council of Europe.”
On 9 July, journalists and ordinary citizens carried out protests against the draft law across Italy, and Mr. La Rue recommended that the Government “refrain” from adopting it in its current form and to “engage in meaningful dialogue with all stakeholders, in particular journalists and media organizations, to ensure that their concerns are taken into account.”
The expert, who reports to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council and serves in an unpaid and independent capacity, said he looks forward to discussing a possible fact-finding mission to Italy next year with the country’s authorities.