Passports required to email in Italy
over the cobblestone streets of Rome’s Borgo
Pio neighborhood, Maurizio Savoni says he’s closing his
Internet cafe because he doesn’t want to be a "cop"
anymore. After Italy passed a new anti-terrorism package in July,
authorities ordered managers offering public communications
services, like Mr. Savoni, to make passport photocopies of every
customer seeking to use the Internet, phone, or fax. "This new
law creates a heavy atmosphere," says Savoni, his desk cluttered
with passport photocopies. He is visibly irritated, as he
proceeds to halt clients at the door for their ID.
Passed within weeks of the London bombings this summer, the
law is part of the most extensive antiterrorism package
introduced in Italy since 9/11 and the country’s subsequent
support of the Iraq war. Though the legislation also includes
measures to heighten transportation security, permit DNA
collection, and facilitate the detention or deportation of
suspects, average Italians are feeling its effect mainly in
But while Italy has a healthy protest culture, no major
opposition to the law has emerged. Before the law was passed,
Savoni’s clients were anonymous to him. Now they must be
identified by first and last name. He must also document which
computer they use, as well as their log-in and log-out times.
Like other owners of Internet cafes, Savoni had to obtain a new
public communications business license, and purchase tracking
software that costs up to $1,600. The software saves a list of
all sites visited by clients, and Internet cafe operators must
periodically turn this list into their local police headquarters.
"After 9/11, Madrid, and London, we all have to do our utmost
best to fight terrorism," says a government official who asked
not to be named. Italy claims that its new stance on security led
to the arrest of Hussein Osman, also known as Hamdi Issac - one
of the men behind the failed bombing of the London underground
July 21. But Silvia Malesa, a young Internet cafe owner in the
coastal village of Olbia, Sardinia, remains unconvinced. "This is
a waste of time," says Ms. Malesa in a telephone interview.
"Terrorists don’t come to Internet cafes."
And now, would-be customers aren’t coming either, say
Savoni and Malesa. Since the law was enacted, Savoni has seen an
estimated 10 percent drop in business. "So many people who come
in here ask ‘why?’ and then they just leave," Savoni
says. Most tourists who wander in from the streets, he explains,
leave their passports at home or are discouraged when asked to
sign a security disclaimer. Savoni says the new law violates his
privacy. "It is a control system like America’s Patriot
Act," he says.
Groups like the American Civil Liberties Union have criticized
the Patriot Act because it permits the government to ask
libraries for a list of books someone has borrowed or the
websites they have visited. Under Italy’s new
anti-terrorism legislation, only those who are on a black list
for terrorist connections are in danger of having their e-mails
read, according to the government official. Interior Minister
Giuseppe Pisanu has declared Italy will stop at nothing to fight
Sofia Celeste - The Christian Science Monitor