Digital censorship – Italian judges close down disaster information site

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 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 site acts as a portal to information regarding the disaster and events that followed.

On Friday Italian newspapers  reported that high-profile parliamentarian (and lawyer) Maurizio Paniz had won a defamation action against the webmaster Tizziano Dal Farra, which had resulted in the ‘seizure’ (and effective closure) of the 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, 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 – 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?

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Fulvio Sarzana
Studio Legale Roma Sarzana & Associati
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