Want to check your e-mail in Italy? Bring your passport.
An antiterror law makes Internet cafe managers check their
clients' IDs and track the websites they visit.
By Sofia Celeste | Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor
ROME - Looking out 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 antiterrorism 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 antiterror 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 the
effect mainly in Internet cafes.
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
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
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.
"Hamdi was well known to our security people and had relatives here
with whom he communicated, in some form," says the government official
in an e-mail interview.
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,"
Most tourists who wander in from the streets, he explains, leave
their passports at home or are discouraged when asked to sign a dis-
Savoni says the new law violates his privacy, comparing it to
America's antiterrorism law that allows authorities to monitor
Internet use without notifying the person in question.
"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 antiterror 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 terror.
"I will continue to prioritize action to monitor the length and
breadth of the country, without ever underestimating reasonably
reliable reports of specific threats," said Mr. Pisanu in a Sept. 29
interview with Finmeccanica Magazine. Pisanu has also called for
developing sophisticated technology to combat terror on Italian soil.
"There is no doubt that, to achieve maximum efficiency, we need
the support of the best technological applications," Pisanu affirmed.
As a result, Pisanu has formed the Strategic Anti-terrorism Analysis
Committee, which aims to examine and take action against all terror
Due to new measures, more than 25 Islamic extremists were arrested on
Italian soil in 2005, according to the Interior Ministry. The ministry
also reported that they are conducting "rigorous surveillance" of
high-risk areas of terrorist activity and over 13,000 strategic
locations in Italy. On Aug. 12 and 13 alone, a reported 32,703 checks
were carried out on suspicious individuals.
Despite the inconvenience, most Italians seem relatively unfazed by
"If I am not doing anything wrong, fundamentally nothing is going to
happen to me," says Mauro Pallotta, a young artist, after checking his
e-mail at Savoni's cafe.
www.csmonitor.com | Copyright 2005 The Christian Science Monitor.
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