Since June 2009 the authorities have been cracking down on online activism through various forms of judicial and extrajudicial intimidation. An increasing number of bloggers have been threatened, arrested, tortured, kept in solitary confinement, and denied medical care, while others have been formally tried and convicted. At least 50 bloggers and online activists have been arrested, and a dozen are still being detained. They include 18-year-old Navid Mohebbi, who was arrested in September 2010 and then released conditionally in December after receiving a three-year suspended prison sentence on charges of “actions against national security” and insulting the Islamic Republic’s founder and current leader by means of “foreign media.” Another blogger Omidreza Mirsayafi died under questionable circumstances in Tehran's infamous Evin prison. He was arrested in the aftermath of the election for allegedly insulting Iran's religious leaders and conspiring against the government. A large number of bloggers, journalists, and activists have also fled Iran and sought political asylum in neighboring countries, mainly Turkey.
The Iranian authorities have taken a range of measures to monitor online communications and use them as a basis for criminal punishment. A number of protesters who were put on trial after the election were indicted for their activities on Facebook and Balatarin, a Persian site that allows users to share links and news. Many arrested activists reported that interrogators had confronted them with copies of their e-mails, asked them to provide the passwords to their Facebook accounts, and questioned them extensively on their relationships with individuals on their “friends” list. The authorities actively exploited the fear created by these reports, claiming that they had access to all the e-mail and text messages exchanged in Iran. The Computer Crime Law obliges ISPs to record all the data exchanged by their users for a period of six months, but it is not clear whether the security services have the technical ability to monitor all this data. In addition, ISPs have been accused of forging SSL certificates to eavesdrop on emails sent through secure channels (https), making protected communication increasingly difficult for those without more sophisticated skills.
Explicit filtering and physical intimidation is supplemented by hacking and denial-ofservice (DoS) attacks on the websites of government critics, including leading opposition figures. In the days after the disputed presidential election, many of the news websites set up by supporters of opposition candidates Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi were taken offline through arrests of the technical teams involved in their maintenance and through intense DOS attacks. There is technical evidence, including a log of the web servers, confirming that government-owned internet-protocol (IP) addresses were used to launch attacks on opposition websites. Norooz News, “Norooz is revealing the names of 4 governmental entities behind the attacks against reformist websites,” October 17, 2010.
IRAN FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net Websites were rendered either permanently or temporarily unavailable by means of hacking. A group calling itself the Iranian Cyber Army managed to hack a number of opposition and news sites with a mix of technical methods and forgery. In some cases the hacking resulted in total discontinuity of the websites. One outlet so affected was MowjCamp.com, a popular site launched after the election that very soon became the main news website of the Green Movement. Outlets that were temporarily disabled by hacking included the Amsterdam-based Radio Zamaneh and the Jaras Green Movement website. A number of non-Iranian sites, such as Twitter, were targeted through the temporary hijacking of their domain names. At the time of these hacking incidents, there was speculation about the connection between the Iranian Cyber Army and the Iranian authorities. Some months later, Iranian officials confirmed these suspicions by publicly announcing that the Iranian Cyber Army was under the command of the IRGC. Fars News, “IRGC has formed the second cyber army in the world,” May 20, 2010, http://www.farsnews.com/newstext.phpnn=8902300353.
IRAN FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net ITALY 2009 POPULATION: 60.5 million INTERNET FREEDOM n/a Free INTERNET PENETRATION: 49 percent STATUS WEB 2.0 APPLICATIONS BLOCKED: No Obstacles to Access n/a SUBSTANTIAL POLITICAL CENSORSHIP: No Limits on Content n/a BLOGGERS/ONLINE USERS ARRESTED: No Violations of User Rights n/a PRESS FREEDOM STATUS: Partly Free Total n/a INTRODUCTION Italy has a relatively high internet penetration rate, with about 50 percent of the population accessing the medium in 2009. Mobile-telephone usage is ubiquitous, and internet access via mobile phones has grown significantly in recent years. Italian authorities do not engage in political censorship of online speech, and no bloggers were imprisoned as of the end of 2010. However, in recent years the government has introduced several bills or decrees that could pose serious challenges to freedom of expression online, and a number of controversial judicial decisions have reinforced this trend. Freedom of expression advocates have raised concerns over efforts to make websites responsible for prescreening information, particularly videos, posted by their users, as well as attempts to impose onerous registration and other requirements on online communications. By the end of 2010, many of these worrisome proposals had been abandoned or put on hold.
The push to restrict internet freedom stems in part from the media ownership structure in Italy. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi owns, directly and indirectly, a large private media conglomerate, and his political position gives him significant influence over the appointment of state television officials. Such financial and editorial dominance of the broadcast media may give the country’s leadership an incentive to restrict the free flow of information online, whether for political reasons or to influence the competition for viewers arising from online video. Nevertheless, as of the end of 2010, the diversity of views and degree of government criticism in online discussions was largely unrestricted and appeared to be greater than in the broadcast and print media.
ITALY FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net A group of nuclear physicists created Italy’s first computer network in 1980, with the intent of connecting all nuclear research institutes in the country. At the beginning, the internet was just one of several packet-switching networks that coexisted in Italy. The dominant telecommunications firm at the time, Telecom Italia, tried to impose its privately owned system, while various center-left governments, aware of the importance of interconnectivity, supported integration among the networks. Ultimately, the adaptability and simplicity of the internet prevailed. Access to the internet was available to private users after 1995, and the number of internet-service providers (ISPs) soared within a short period of time. Early obstacles to penetration included lack of familiarity with computers and with the English language, as well as the dominance of commercial television and the diversion of consumers’ telecommunications spending to mobile telephony.
OBSTACLES TO ACCESS Since 1990, the Italian government has supported the internet as a catalyst for economic growth, increased tourism, reduced communication costs, and more efficient government operations. As of 2009, Italy had approximately 29 million internet users, for an internet penetration rate of almost 50 percent.1 Although this rate is higher than the global average, it is lower than the overall penetration rate in Western Europe. The relatively low penetration rate is not due to infrastructural limitations as much as unfamiliarity with the internet among the older generations and a general affinity for mobile-phone devices rather than desktop computers.
The main point of internet access is the home, with approximately 18 million people using home connections at least once a month.2 The workplace is the second most common access point, with approximately 6 million users, followed by schools and universities, with around 2 million users. Approximately 43 percent of internet users are female, but women make up 55 percent of “new users.”3 Cost is not a significant barrier to access. Currently, the price for a broadband connection ranges from €20 to €40 (US$26 to US$52) per month.ADSL broadband connections are available on 86 percent of Italy’s territory.However, the broadband subscription rate is only 20.5 percent, as not all internet International Telecommunication Union (ITU), “ICT Indicators 2009—Internet,” available at http://www.itu.int/ITUD/icteye/Indicators/Indicators.aspx, accessed March 2, 2011.
Giancarlo Livraghi, ed., “Dati sull’internet in Italia” [Data on the Internet in Italy], as of December 24, 2010, http://www.gandalf.it/dati/dati3.htm (in Italian).
“Broadband—Italy,” Socialtext, https://www.socialtext.net/broadband/index.cgiitaly, accessed March 4, 2011.
ITALY FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net subscribers opt for higher speeds.6 Meanwhile, fiber-optic cables are not well developed. In September 2010, the deputy minister for communications announced that Italian telecommunications operators had reached an agreement on the technical model for a transition from the existing copper-wire network to a fiber-optic network. Earlier in the year, telecommunications operators Fastweb, Wind, and Vodafone Italia had announced plans to jointly invest €2.5 billion (US$3.3 billion) over a five-year period to connect 15 of Italy’s largest cities using fiber-optic cable, and cover an additional 10 million people.
Telecom Italia has announced its own plan to invest €9 billion (US$11.8 billion) in infrastructure, and aims to offer 100 Mbps broadband access to 50 percent of the Italian population by 2018.In terms of mobile-phone penetration, Italy leads Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries with a rate of 151 percent.8 The majority of these subscriptions are prepaid. Telecom Italia Mobile (TIM), Vodafone, Wind, and Italia are the major carriers, and all of them operate third-generation (3G) networks. Access to mobile internet has been increasing in recent years, and as of December 2009, some percent of internet users reported accessing the internet through their mobile phones.9 The social-networking site Facebook, the Twitter microblogging service, and international bloghosting sites are freely available. The popularity of videoconferencing through applications like Skype is on the rise.
In 2005, the Italian government issued the Pisanu decree, requiring businesses to obtain a license from the police in order to offer WiFi access to customers. The decree also required that users produce identification documents to access WiFi in public places, and that operators preserve a record of internet use. These measures were instituted for security reasons in the wake of terrorist bombings in London that year, and were renewed annually over the next several years. They are widely viewed as having stunted the spread of WiFi in Italy, as many businesses chose not to offer such services given the added nuisance and cost involved in complying with the decree. In November 2010, however, the government announced that it would abolish the decree and remove restrictions on public access to WiFi starting in January 2011. The government passed a decree to formalize the announcement in December 2010, but this required parliamentary approval within two months or the Google Public Data, “Broadband Penetration Rate: Italy,” updated February 10, 2011, http://www.google.com/publicdatads=f5nrd26mp6q4m_&ctype=l&strail=false&nselm=h&met_y=broadband_penetration& scale_y=lin&ind_y=false&rdim=country_group&idim=eu_country:IT&tstart=1025481600000&tunit=M&tlen=90&hl=en&dl =en.
Giada Zampano, “Italy Operators Reach Broadband Deal,” Wall Street Journal, September 19, 2010, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703470904575499432808468868.html.
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), “OECD Key ITC Indicators—Mobile subscribers in total / per 100 inhabitants for OECD, 2007,” updated September 21, 2009, available at http://www.oecd.org/sti/ICTindicators.
“ITALIA: accesso a Internet per luoghi e device (Dicembre 2009)” [Italy: Access to the Internet by Location and Device (December 2009)], Key4biz, March 4, 2010, http://www.key4biz.it/Figure_e_Tabelle/2010/03/Internet_Device_Web_Contenuti_Smartphone_Accesso_Utenti_Luoghi_ Dicembre_Italia.html (in Italian).
ITALY FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net previous requirements would remain in force. While many politicians welcomed the change, others were skeptical about whether the announcement would be followed by concrete action.Access to the internet for private users is offered by 13 different internet-service providers (ISPs). Telecom Italia has the largest share of the market, followed by Vodafone, Fastweb, and Tiscali.11 Telecom Italia owns the physical network, but it is required by European Union (EU) legislation to provide fair access to competitors.The main regulatory body for telecommunications is the Authority for Communications Security (AGCOM), an independent agency that is accountable to Parliament. Its responsibilities include providing access to networks, protecting intellectualproperty rights, regulating advertising, and overseeing public broadcasting. AGCOM’s president is appointed by the majority party in Parliament and commissioners have been known to come under pressure from the government to take certain actions regarding television broadcasts.13 The other important player in the field of communications is the Italian Data Protection Authority (DPA). Set up in 1997, the DPA has a staff of more than 100 people, and four of its main members are elected by Parliament for seven-year terms.
The DPA is tasked with supervising compliance by both governmental and nongovernmental entities with data protection laws, and “banning or blocking processing operations that are liable to cause serious harm to individuals.”14 It is generally viewed as professional and fair in carrying out its duties.
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