Imagine the closing of an entire newspaper/magazine/portal online because judges deem one simple phrase published, on one of its pages, to be defamatory. No need to imagine it, as it’s already happened this month – not in China, as one might think, but in the heart of the EU; Italian judges, deeming one phrase published on the disaster information site Vajont.info to be defamatory (injuring the reputation of two of Italy’s highest profile politicians), and have apparently instructed Italian ISP’s to block access to the site.
The Vajont dam disaster happend in 1963 when a landslide fall into a resevoir caused a flood that swept through the Vajont river valley causing up to 2,000 deaths. Political intrigue, alleged cover ups and court cases followed and the vajont.info site acts as a portal to information regarding the disaster and events that followed.
On Friday Italian newspapers1 reported that high-profile parliamentarian (and lawyer) Maurizio Paniz had won a defamation action against the vajont.info webmaster Tizziano Dal Farra, which had resulted in the ‘seizure’ (and effective closure) of the vajont.info site. A Judge in the provincial capital of Belluno ruled that the site should be obfuscated, and ordered Italy’s 226 Internet Service Providers to ‘inhibit its respective users access to the address www.vajont.info, to its relative alias and to dominion names present and future forwarding to the same site, at the static IP address that at the moment of the enforcement of the seizure results associated to the aforementioned dominion name and to every other static ip address associated to in in the future (interdiction to the address resolution via DNS)”2
And while there seems to be some confusion as to whether the order has been carried out – vajont.info is still accessible to this monkey, for example, browsing, at the time of writing, via a telecom italia account – the intent of the order is clear, and more than a little worrying. It’s not the first time that a site has been blocked by court order in Italy (PirateBay for example is not accessible directly through Italian ISPs), but it does appear to be the first time it’s happened for a phrase deemed as defamatory; the concerns are obvious – if a full site is taken down for one or a number of phrases deemed as defamatory, where does that leave online newspapers? Could a situation occur legally where a newspaper is obfuscated because of one defamatory article?
Italian legal blogger Fulvio Sarzana commented
Until now the magistrates have always hesitated to impose on providers the instrument of inhibiting access to Italian citizens on the occasion of a preventitive seizure of a portal or of blogs for defamataion, for the serious risk of damaging consitutional rights to the right to information and to freedom of expression [...]
Aside from the specific case mentioned [...] it should be said that the consolidation of this practice appears to damage gravely the rights to information of Italian citizens that could see dissappear from the world of the web entire newspapers, blogs, information portale, in virtue of on or more phrases considered damaging to the rights of an individual citizen”3
And it doesn’t appear to be just vajont.info affected – as it’s hosted on a non-Italian shared hosting service. Reports suggest that all the other sites on the same server are affected, including sites like www.jacklondon.com
Anonymous Italy weren’t slow to react to the news, and by yesterday it had launched an attack on Paniz’s official site (which currently has a ‘site under maintenance’ page up), announcing:
Wikileaks says ‘Informations want to be free’. And you, dear lawyers? Apart from money and reputation, don’t you want to enjoy a bit of healthy freedom? It seems not, so we’ve decided to piss you off more than a little bit starting a long process of attacks, that start precisely with mauriziopaniz.it’ 4
1. As reported by l’Unita, La Repubblica, and Corriere della Sera
2. As reported on the legal blog www.fulviosarzana.it inibire ai rispettivi utenti l’accesso all’indirizzo webwww.vajont.info, ai relativi alias e ai nomi di dominio presenti e futuri, rinvianti al sito medesimo, all’indirizzo IP statico che al momento dell’esecuzione del sequestro risulta associato al predetto nome di dominio e ad ogni ulteriore indirizzo IP statico che sarà associato in futuro ( interdizione alla risoluzione dell’indirizzo mediante DNS)”.
3. From www.fulviosarzana.it “Sino ad oggi la magistratura aveva sempre esitato nell’imporre ai provider lo strumento dell’inibizione all’accesso per i cittadini italiani in occasione di un sequestro preventivo dei portali e dei blog per diffamazione, per i gravi rischi di lesione dei diritti costituzionali del diritto all’informazione e alla libertà di espressione e mai in precedenza, per una potenziale diffamazione, era stata adottata la misura dell’inibizione all’accesso ad un blog o ad un portale a carico di un cosi rilevante numero di internet providers.
Al di là della vicenda giudiziaria specifica, delle responsabilità del titolare del portale che andranno accertate e della giusta tutela spettante in quel caso agli Onorevoli Scilipoti e Paniz, va detto che il consolidamento di questa prassi appare in grado di ledere gravemente i diritti all’informazione dei cittadini italiani che potrebbero vedere scomparire dal mondo della rete interi quotidiani, blog, portali informativi,in virtù di una o più frasi ritenute lesive dei diritti di un singolo cittadino.”
4. From the Anonymous Italy blog : Wikileaks dice “Informations want to be free”. E voi cari avvocati? Oltre ai soldi e alla reputazione, un pò di sana libertà non ve la volete godere? A quanto pare no, quindi abbiamo deciso di farvi incazzare un bel pò iniziando un lungo processo di attacchi, che comincia proprio con http://www.mauriziopaniz.it/.