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Wikipedia shuts down Italian site because of Berlusconi's "Wiretapping Act" (wikipedia.org)
271 points by nextparadigms on Oct 4, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 59 comments

I understand this may sound inappropriate by some of you.

I'm italian, I live in the US, and I'm deeply updated on the political and cultural changes that we're witnessing in Italy. The proposed law we're talking about is basically against any kind of interception (mostly phone calls) legally used by police and public prosecutors to arrest criminals and mafia members. This is scaring the italian government simply because the prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has been brought in trial thanks to some interceptions (the sex scandals, lately).

Apart compromising thousands of trials by helping lots of criminals to not be arrested and uncovered, this law also includes a specific paragraph stating that any kind of publication publicly distributed referring to an individual (like on a newspaper, blog or wikipedia) can be deleted upon the request of the offended part without proving that his motivations are true. Let's say that a Wikipedia article states that Berlusconi has been accused for something, he can, thanks to this law, ask the removal of the information even if they're true and he's wrong. This clearly threatens the freedom of press in Italy, and this is why what Wikipedia is doing, if put in the current italian political context, can be not only justified but also approved.

Oh and note that according to this bright law proposal even the blog ran by the 14 years old should remove/change the content within 48 hours. It's hard to get more lame than that. Also note that this is happening at the same time that in Italy Berlusconi is unlikely to get elected again, so he is exploiting the last months of being the prime minister to ruin a bit more our country.

And in that short of time frame, the only ways (generally) to communicate with the host of the material are by email or phone. In either case, there is little way to verify that someone telling you to take it down is the subject of the text.

I don't think many HN readers need to be convinced that this is probably a bad (potential) law. The real issue is the appropriateness of this action by Italian-language editors as a response to this proposed law.

I don't understand how this is supposed to make sense... Isn't it just as possible for an Italian to be offended by something written on the English wikipedia as it is on the Italian one? Why don't they just shut down wikipedia as a whole then?

Also, unless their servers are physically hosted in Italy or they have a number of employees based in Italy, I see no reason why they should abide by this law. Doesn't China lawfully demand censorship on every website? Maybe it's time they move their servers to Iceland...

I can't help but see this as a mostly a politically motivated action, a form of protest and a way of spreading information about this paragraph among the Italian public, and I cannot see how this is in the spirit of Wikipedia's neutrality...

Edit: a somewhat similar attitude is present in this post on the mailing list http://thread.gmane.org/gmane.org.wikimedia.foundation/56247

Why don't they just shut down wikipedia as a whole then?

This is an action purely by the Italian community. The foundation were not even aware of it till a few hours ago :)

I see no reason why they should abide by this law

It's a protest against an upcoming law that ma lead to Italian editors being fined for not editing Wikipedia to the demands of companies/people.

tomp asked what I think is a crucial question, that you didn't address: what does the language-specific wiki have to do with it? Wouldn't the English-language wiki be subject to the very same law? If so, how does downing the Italian version protect wikipedia?

Communication has been oblique from the Italian community, so I can only give my "best guess" answer here.

Practically speaking there is no way this can affect Wikipedia itself, because the servers are in the US. The Italians appear to be claiming that, however, this law would affect the editors directly - leading them to be fined if they write material that someone objects to (and don't fix it within 48 hours).

I'm not really convinced myself (reading the law) that this is a risk for them. But it is the reason behind their move.

(or if I was being critical; they are making a political gesture to try and stop the law, which is terrible...)

Non-US domains have been re-appropriated by the US with the rationale that a .com domain comes under US jurisdiction, and the agency behind it has gone on record explaining as much (apologies for shit reference, this is from memory)[1].

Whether or not that rationale stands or if it's even right, that same logic could be applied to websites holding a .it domain. And since some other countries require some level of incorporation within their own economy before being able to use their TLD, (don't know if that applies to Italy), there's a reasonable assumption to be made that penalties against the business running the site could be applicable.

As a purely political manoeuvre, however, I suppose that's their collective decision to protest the legislation. From the sound of it I'd find it difficult to disagree.

[1] http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2011/jul/03/us-anti-pir...

Well, it's certainly not safe for them to continue running under the .it TLD if they're in violation of Italian law, but they could redirect to "it.wikipedia.com" (which, I just checked, actually is the Italian Wikipedia) and thus be within the US domainspace. That seems pretty safe.

And yes, you're correct that the US has asserted control over the generic .com/.org TLDs for historical reasons. They have a "silent .us" appended to them, from a functional standpoint. So they're not safe if you're in violation of US laws, but that doesn't seem to be the situation here.

The practical reason I can see is that: 1) a large portion of Wikipedians from Italy are worried about the consequences of this law for Italian Wikipedians and wish to stage a protest; and 2) editors from Italy constitute an overwhelming majority of editors on the Italian-language Wikipedia, and are therefore able to stage a protest there, but not elsewhere (since they don't constitute an overwhelming enough majority of the other languages' Wikipedias to get consensus agreement for a blackout).

So far it seems the Foundation, which ultimately owns the servers and could intervene if it deemed the move contrary to the organization's principles, is standing on the sidelines. In part, that might be because the consensus is so strong; it wouldn't be overruling a handful of rogue admins, but a large portion of the Italian Wikipedia's editors (straw-poll here: http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Bar/Discussioni/Comma...), which it prefers not to do unless absolutely necessary. A number of people in the organization, speaking in their private capacity, appear to also be fairly sympathetic to the protest, and not inclined to overturn it in a heavy-handed manner (perhaps there will be some informal negotiation to bring the site back online without condemning or officially "overturning" the protest).

Italian law is very unlikely to extend outside the borders of Italy. I see this as analogous to why Google can serve up content about Tiananmen Square outside of China without any repercussions

It's not about protecting Wikipedia: it's about protecting the contributors. The vast majority of contributors to Italian Wikipedia are in Italy - much more so than, say, English, where people are all over the globe.

It's a protest, not actually an attempt to comply with the law, especially because (unless I'm mistaken) the law hasn't even been passed yet.

Have you seen Mark Thomas "My life in serious organised crime" (DVD and Radio)? I highly recommend it if you know the UK at all.

In it, he talks about "playing" with the law. There was a law in the UK saying all protests within a zone (roughly a mile of parliament) had to be licensed by the police. So he started playing with the law - never breaking it - but playing with it and generally being a right pain in the ass (at times with several thousand friends) to point out how stupid the law was. In the end, the law was removed (altho some people say what it was replaced with was even worse).

His half hour radio show is on Youtube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nRGZr2m4r7M (Illegally, I assume - your call)

But anyway, if this law passes play with it to demonstrate how shit it is. For starters, go through every public statement Berlusconi's party has ever issued on-line and complain if possible. Then move on to the output of the Berlusconi owned media.

I don't know Italy well, so I don't know if this would work but certainly something to think about.

Italian editors may have done this as a stunt to merely alarm italian readers of what a law may be comming, but the "italian language" wikipedia, even if probably mostly populated by italian citizens, is in no way connected to or obliged to abide by laws of italy, the state. There are probably millions of italian speakers who are not italian citizens, they are affected by this stunt even though they are in no way affected by this silly law.

In my view, this is italian citizens effectively seizing italian language wikipedia to push their particular political interests, which apply only to italy. I also think that the foundation should not allow particular "countries" to effectively seize language editions of the wikipedia and enforce their particular laws on all readers and contributors who happen to speak that language.

The flaw with your argument is that by not stopping it here it'll snowball and affect more systems, more countries etc. This should be stopped now, otherwise France will be next then Germany than US and all of a sudden we'll all move to China.

It might however prevent or deter contributors living in Italy from contributing. And those are, quite obviously, the vast majority of the people contributing to the localized wikipedia.

You seem to suggest that a geolocation-based "blocking" of Wikipedia would have been more effective, but that would mean this appeal wouldn't have reached any of you - including myself, an Italian student in an exchange period abroad.

Besides, I can't really see wikipedia doing geolocation-based blocking of anything. It's just not coherent with the project of a global, free, libre, neutral, universal corpus of knowledge.

Maybe I'm being dense, but I couldn't gather from the notice the scope of the Italian law: Servers hosted in Italy? Publishers of said content irrespective of where it is hosted? Authors of said content? Would the website be blacklisted if it (loosely speaking the people behind it) do not cooperate with the law? Does Italy even have an internet blacklist?

This came to the attention on the foundation wide discussion list earlier today (I think this is the first time the foundation were aware of it too...) & I've been digging into it.

The law they are protesting basically says as follows:

- Any party can post a notice to the owner/publisher of a website or blog etc. telling them to correct information (and provide the new information they require) and this must be done within 48 hours or a fine can be imposed.

Obviously it is a silly law. Italian Wikipedians are arguing that it is risky for them because it leaves them open to receiving these notices and having fines imposed; and so they have shut down (on their own initiative) it.wiki.

There is a lot of FUD flying around... but as best I can make out:

- There is nothing in these new laws to actually blacklist of close down Wikipedia for non-compliance

- There doesn't appear to be a way to use the law to target editors individually (although as with many laws it's really hard to make it "fit" into how Wikipedia is structured..).

My own view I laid out here: http://article.gmane.org/gmane.org.wikimedia.foundation/5630...

The same law exists in France, as far as I can tell; I happen to have encountered that due to signing up for a hosting provider (gandi.net) originally based in France, which noted that particular law in their terms.

I can see how such laws could seem like a good idea to someone completely unfamiliar with how the Internet operates ("Someone is wrong on the Internet!"). As it stands, it sounds like a good reason to never host anything in Italy or France that talks about other people in any way.

If the scope of it is as described I can't see how anyone s would think its a good idea, even if they support the general principle behind defamation laws and assume the internet works the same way as any other form of publishing. Unless they happened to be a public figure constantly in the press for consorting with prostitutes etcetera, of course.

If its scope is as described in the Wikipedia article it's akin to forcing newspapers to follow up every front page Berlusconi expose with a front page statement from Berlusconi that it didn't happen. Would the Italian public stand for that?

If you have a source about the French part I am really very interested. There is a similar law but it requires a judgment of a court of justice, it is a law about public slander and it usually only requires that the "attacked" party is given the ability to answer in the same medium.

France refers to it as the "Right of Reply", and as far as I can tell it requires no legal judgment to occur first. The "LCEN" ("Loi pour la confiance dans l'économie numérique", law on confidence in the digital economy) extends this to online communications. Anyone designated in online communication can send a reply within 3 months and force the publication of their reply in the same location as the original designation.

Who even has the ability to delist it.wp? Does the Italian Arbcom have the power to remove the wiki? I would have thought that only the Foundation itself could have made this call. It appears they've redirected every page (even those that don't exist) to the notice. This would seem to require a hell of a lot greater access than any mere editor would be afforded.

The language Wikipedia's a fairly autonomous (which is good, FWIW, except when it goes wrong) with the Foundation trusting them to follow the core community ideals

As to how they did this; MediaWiki has a Commons.js that is editable by admins. They stuck some JS in to redirect every page to their statement. The content is all there; just "hidden". Turning off JS will allow browsing the site (I think).

EDIT: you'll also need to find a way to remove this piece of css: .portlet, #column-one, #firstHeading, #bodyContent, #footer, #catlinks, #siteNotice, #siteSub, #contentSub { display: none; }

Jimmy Wales just described it (in a Facebook post) as "Wikipedia Italy is on strike against an idiotic proposed law". While Jimmy Wales is no longer synonymous with Wikipedia governance, his implicit endorsement of the strike is definitely Something.

Though people are fighting on the mailing list and calling for all the Italian sysops be desysopped.

Yes; he just posted to that effect on his en.wiki talk page.

Disappointing, I feel. What next; English Wikipedia suspended till the US government sort out copyright laws?

Worrying precedent!

The US neither has nor is presently debating any copyright laws which impose (or threaten to impose) a debilitating burden on the Wikipedia editing process and its content.

In actual fact; neither is the Italian government.

It's not much, but I emailed the (Honorary Vice) Consul for Italy in my city. You can find yours at: http://www.nerone.cc/io/consulates.htm

This is obviously serious, but the "Wikipedia shuts down Italian site because of Berlusconi's "Wiretapping Act" title seems to be inaccurate.

The wikipedia page talks about a "proposal, which the Italian Parliament is currently debating".

It appears that the proposal is not the law (yet)

And the site hasn't been "shut down" permanently. It's a temporary protest.

Hi I'm italian, and obviously concerned about this issue. I think this could possibly be a game changer for wikipedia. I think the principle of neutrality has been put aside. This seems to me a political move. Please don't misunderstand me: I hate Burlesquoni and this idiotic law. But I always been very doubtful about wikipedia's "neutrality". I hope this move could serve both purposes: increase italians' awareness about their kinda-fascist government and make wikipedians think deeper about "neutrality", and its limits.

Encyclopedia content has to be neutral. But as a whole Wikipedia is not "neutral". We're pretty strongly in favour of free licenses (Creative Commons etc.), open source, access to free knowledge and against censorship. Hence why we don't like crappy laws like this.

As Mike Godwin (of Godwin's Law fame) said:

"I'd also like to +1 the thought that the very existence of Wikipedia is not itself NPOV -- it reflects a philosophical and political position, and one that just about all of us here agree with."


This is entirely consistent with Wikipedia's existing policies on neutrality, because Wikipedia's neutrality policies apply to its encyclopedic content. The Wikimedia Foundation and participants in its projects have never been constrained by that particular policy, and are free to gleefully offer their opinions and pursue agendas. Indeed, the foundation is dedicated to spreading knowledge, and is opinionated about constraints on that goal.

No one has suggested, or is under the impression, that this notice is the same as an encyclopedia article. The encyclopedia article which ultimately covers this event will remain free* of opinionated statements, and instead describe the law, notable expert comments on its implications, the Wikipedia shutdown, reactions to this shutdown, and the stated motives of various participants, allowing the matter to speak for itself. It does not need to agitate for more freedom or pass judgement on the moral validity of the regime.

(* Wikipedia, being a product of mere mortals, will necessarily be an imperfect representation of neutrality. Nitpicking about this fact too much is minimally productive. People will do what they can.)

Just having a (as much as possible) neutral source of information will be incredibly valuable to to the human race. History has always been rewritten by the victors, and that is generally a very bad thing. That can't happen anymore.

the news on the italian television had no mentioned this fact, as I had imagined...

Been following the issue regarding this law for a while now. The relevant twitter hashtag seems to be #NoLeggeBavaglio (Italian for '[Say] No to the gag law") for those that wish to find out more. This is but one blog (in Italian) on this topic and the campaign to try and keep paragraph 29 from sticking around: http://www.valigiablu.it/doc/540/comma-ammazza-blog-un-post-...

I think that this is a good form to protest because most italian users use Wikipedia so they can understand the impact of the law. I write on my blog: http://dariosalvelli.com/2011/10/wikipedia-italia-chiude

Can't this be solved with Wikipedia (who is hosted outside Italy) not showing the IPs of the wikipedians in Italy?

Also, I think that these laws will move people to the darknets, like Tor. People aren't going to stop blogging, downloading copyrighted stuff, etc. Tor isn't even hard to install or use anymore.

Darknets are so slow that it pushes away normal people unless absolutely necessary. It's like walking vs. driving.

They are slow for some things, but you can perfectly use Tor for blogging, email, IRC, etc. For video or audio is usually slow.

Now wait a minute, is this a law or a proposed law? If the former, they're complying. If the latter, they're having a hissy fit.

I don't think this is a hissy fit. Instead it is a passive aggressive move to show what full compliance would mean.

"You want something stupid? Okay - here's all the stupid you can handle."

Well it seems like their trying to prevent a proposed law from becoming an actual law. Whether the threat is significant enough to warrant this action, I can't judge but it is a pretty effective form of protest, you have to admit, given that wikipedia is largely taken for granted these days.

I'm italian so excuse me for my terrible english.

in the next 24hours this proposal law will be approved or not in base of the choose of the parlament, that is very influenced(?) by Berlusconi, for this reason italian writers of wikipedia had written the advice, for make the italian people think about what is happening. I'm so scared.

Not that a law like this should exist, but why does it scare you?

because of the situation that day by day is gettin worse for all the italian people... I don't know what people of other states of the world really thinks about our country, I think that to understand all the reasons of what is going on in Italy could be really difficult for people that doesn't lives here...

it's like there is no way to escape from this situation, a very big part of the people in italy are old people that gain informations only from the television, and you know that in italy 3 of the most important channel tv are Berlusconi's proprieties... so the 60%of the popolation konw what he want them to know, and notting else... for example probably tomorrow on the news they doesn't gave importance to wikipedia's advice.

I'm so sorry for my english, I hope you could understand what i'm trying to explain to you.. :(

Your English is far superior to my Italian, so no need to apologize.

I had forgotten about Berlusconi's ownership in the media. That does give him a lot of weight to throw around. Is there anything specific about this law (beyond its idiocy!) that frightens you, or is it just Berlusconi's ability to walk all over the Italian people?

If this law goes into effect, site owners will be required to either remove or post corrections to previously posted informations within 48 hours of receiving a request by an allegedly defamed person or company. Corrections will have to be posted with the same visibility as the offending text, no commentary whatsoever and no regard as to whether the corrected information, or the correction, is true or not.

And without a court order.

Under penalty of a fine of up to € 12000.

Not sure how this will affect WP given that it's all hosted in the U.S. including the italian one (right?), but I believe the italian editors might fear to be held responsible individually.

However it does certanly makes scary running a blog, not to mention an online newspaper, as an italian citizen.

Because it's a reminder of the presence of a government that has, at least in theory, the ability to make life suck harder for a long time through sheer stupidity.

Those of us in the U.S. have the privilege of knowing that nothing will actually ever pass (and if it does, the chance of effective enforcement is comically slim). Folks in other countries aren't so lucky. :-)

exactly srl!

The law is not yet passed, however if it will happen that would be for a little timespan, that would be a good thing to awaken italian people about what the hell is happening in their country :)

I agree that it's a pretty effective form of protest. In fact, I applaud the actions of the editors for bringing to light the issues that are being pushed in the legislature.

Most people are too willfully ignorant about what goes on politically in their countries, and it's only when they are personally affected that they take a stand in the matter. Other sites should have joined in and made it apparent to all italian internet users the effects this law might have on their web experience.

If anything the Google case should make it clear that it's not a safe bargain to simply ignore these types of issues.

Some of their discussion on the mailing lists positions it as a strike in opposition to the proposed law.

It does seem to be generating some coverage in the Italian press, so might be partially successful if that was the objective (we'll see if that discussion does anything to derail the law).

edit: To clarify, "their" is the Italian Wikipedia-editing community, which seems to have voted something like 40-3 among active admins who participated to blackout the encyclopedia. The U.S.-based Wikimedia Foundation wasn't involved. Presumably the Wikimedia Foundation could force it to be turned back on (they own the servers, etc.), but so far are not intervening.

Hissy fits are not unheard-of in the wikiverse.

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