The Italian Senate [official website, in Italian] on Thursday approved a bill [materials, in Italian] restricting the use of wiretaps [JURIST news archive] and criminalizing the reporting of wiretap transcripts by the news media. Under the proposed legislation, a three-judge panel would be required to grant a wiretap, and the wiretap would only be valid for a two-month period. Any publication reporting on the contents of a wiretap during an ongoing investigation would be subject to fines of USD $540,000, and the individual journalist reporting the information could also be held liable. Supporters of the bill claim it is necessary in order to protect privacy and curb the excessive use of wiretaps [NYT report]. The bill has been widely criticized [WSJ report] by members of the media and prosecutors who contend the bill is aimed at protecting high-ranking officials, including Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi [official profile; JURIST news archive], who are often the focus of wiretap investigations. Opponents also contend that the bill would weaken the ability of the judiciary to conduct investigations, including investigations into organized crime. The bill must now be approved by Italy's lower house of parliament before it becomes law.
Italy has previously passed legislation aimed at protecting high-ranking officials. In March, the Italian Senate gave final approval [JURIST report] to a bill [materials, in Italian] that would allow cabinet ministers, including Berlusconi, to postpone criminal proceedings against them on the grounds that they would interfere with official duties. In January, hundreds of Italy's judges walked out of their courtrooms to protest the passage of legislation that placed strict time limits [JURIST reports] on the trial and appeals process. That bill was also criticized as being tailored for Berlusiconi's benefit and would result in the automatic dismissal of two pending cases against him. Later that month, it was reported that Berlusconi could also face a third trial based on information that surfaced recently. Berlusconi currently faces a corruption trial and a tax fraud trial, both of which have been postponed. The leader has been previously acquitted of false accounting and bribery and has had other charges against him dropped [JURIST reports].