UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression Frank La Rue [official website] on Tuesday condemned [press release] an Italian bill [materials, in Italian] that would restrict the use of wiretaps [JURIST news archive] and criminalize the reporting of wiretap transcripts by the news media. La Rue urged the Italian government to either abolish or substantially revise the bill, warning that if it is adopted in its current form, it could significantly suppress freedom of expression in the country. 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. La Rue expressed concern about the penalties journalists would face under the bill and the effect it would have on investigative reports on matters of public interest like corruption. He also cautioned that the penalties proposed under the bill would, "seriously undermine all individuals' right to seek and impart information" in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [text] to which Italy is a party. The Italian Senate [official website, in Italian] approved the bill [JURIST report] last month. The bill must be approved by Italy's lower house of parliament before it becomes law.
The Italian bill has been extremely controversial. 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. Last week, a majority of the Italian media went on strike [JURIST report] to protest the bill in a "day of silence" that was meant to be representative of the silence the public would be faced with if the bill were to be signed into law. Opponents also contend that the bill would weaken the ability of the judiciary to conduct investigations, including investigations into organized crime.