UN Advisor Tells Italy To Drop Its Terrible 'Fake News' Law Before It Does Any Real Damage

from the assembly-line-for-vehicles-of-censorship dept

Italy is rolling out new laws to deal with "fake news." The Italian government can't define this term precisely, but apparently assumes it will know it when it sees it. And the rest of the country is encouraged to "see something, say something," thanks to the government's online portal which will allow brigaders and hecklers to cleanse the web of things they don't like. Even if some of it stays up, those reported will possibly still have to spend some time interacting with government employees, which will mostly be a waste of everyone's time.

And that's just the bureaucratic side of it. This portal will link to law enforcement so Italy's uniformed cyberwarriors can go harass citizens over alleged fakery the government can't even clearly define. There's nothing like settling discussions about factual misconceptions with shows of force from government reps.

Seeing as the problem will get a whole lot worse before it devolves into just another tool of government oppression, UN Special Rapporteur David Kaye has fired off a formal letter to the Italian government, asking it to nuke its plan to tackle fake news with armed officers and government mandates.

The letter [PDF] points out the Italian government is, in essence, criminalizing differences of opinion. That's not going to keep it in line with internationally-recognized human rights.

The Human Rights Committee has emphasized that “free communication of information and ideas about public and political issues between citizens, candidates and elected representatives is essential. This implies a free press and other media able to comment on public issues and to inform public opinion without censorship or restraint. Moreover, international human rights law provides States’ responsibility to ensure an environment in which a diverse range of political opinions and ideas can be freely and openly expressed and debated. Freedom of expression also includes sharing one’s beliefs and opinions with others who may have different opinions. In the Joint Declaration on Freedom of Expression and “Fake News”, Disinformation and Propaganda, my mandate together with other regional freedom of expression experts stressed that the “human right to impart information and ideas is not limited to “correct” statements, and “protects information and ideas that may shock, offend, and disturb”.

[...]

In light of these standards, the Joint Declaration on Freedom of expression and “Fake News” has concluded that “general prohibitions on the dissemination of information based on vague and ambiguous ideas, including “false news” or “nonobjective information” are incompatible and should be abolished.

Further driving this point home, Kaye states the cold hard fact that laws like these, however well-intended, end up being vehicles of a particular brand of censorship.

The lack of clarity concerning how the Protocol would operate, coupled with the threat of criminal sanctions, raises the danger that your Excellency’s Government will become arbiters of truth in the public and political domain. Accordingly, I am concerned that the Protocol would disproportionately suppress a wide range of expressive conduct essential to a democratic society, including criticism of the government, news reporting, political campaigning and the expression of unpopular, controversial or minority opinions.

Every law that curtails speech ends up being abused by the government that put it into effect. There are no exceptions. As is noted here, laws like these allow the government to decide what speech is acceptable using vague guidelines that effectively allow it to suppress dissent and criticism. There's no way to narrowly craft a law aimed at regulating a certain form of speech ("fake news") that has zero chance of ever being universally and concisely defined.

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Filed Under: censorship, david kaye, fake news, italy, un


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  1. identicon
    Wendy Cockcroft, 29 Mar 2018 @ 5:52am

    Re: Propaganda...

    Cockcroft's Law #2: never create powers that people you're opposed to can abuse.

    We're seeing this in Poland, as I advised before.


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