Italy’s new Piracy Shield has just gone into operation and is already harming human rights there

Back in October, Walled Culture wrote about the grandly-named “Piracy Shield”. This is Italy’s new Internet blocking system, which assumes people are guilty until innocent, and gives the copyright industry a disproportionate power to control what is available online, no court orders required. Piracy Shield went live in December, and has just issued its first blocking orders. But a troubling new aspect of Piracy Shield has emerged, reported here by TorrentFreak:

A document detailing technical requirements of Italy’s Piracy Shield anti-piracy system confirms that ISPs are not alone in being required to block pirate IPTV services. All VPN and open DNS services must also comply with blocking orders, including through accreditation to the Piracy Shield platform. Google has already agreed to dynamically deindex sites and remove infringing adverts.

This is no mere theoretical threat. The VPN (Virtual Private Network) service AirVPN has just announced that it will no longer accept users resident in Italy. As AirVPN explains:

The list of IP addresses and domain names to be blocked is drawn up by private bodies authorised by AGCOM (currently, for example, Sky and DAZN). These private bodies enter the blocking lists in a specific platform. The blocks must be enforced within 30 minutes of their first appearance by operators offering any service to residents of Italy.

There is no judicial review and no review by AGCOM. The block must be enforced inaudita altera parte [without hearing the other party] and without the possibility of real time refusal, even in the case of manifest error. Any objection by the aggrieved party can only be made at a later stage, after the block has been imposed.

As a result, AirVPN says it can no longer offer its service in Italy:

The above requirements are too burdensome for AirVPN, both economically and technically. They are also incompatible with AirVPN’s mission and would negatively impact service performance. They pave the way for widespread blockages in all areas of human activity and possible interference with fundamental rights (whether accidental or deliberate). Whereas in the past each individual blockade was carefully evaluated either by the judiciary or by the authorities, now any review is completely lost. The power of those private entities authorized to compile the block lists becomes enormous as the blocks are not verified by any third party and the authorized entities are not subject to any specific fine or statutory damage for errors or over-blocking.

That’s a good summary of all that is wrong with Piracy Shield. Companies can compile block lists without any constraint or even oversight. If the blocks are unjustified, there are no statutory damages, which will obviously encourage overblocking. And proving they are unjustified is a slow and complex process, and only takes place after the block has been effected.

What is particularly troubling here is that Italian residents are now losing access to a popular VPN as a result of this new law. In a world where privacy threats from companies and governments are constantly increasing, VPNs are a vital tool, and it is crucial to have a range of them to choose from. The fact that AirVPN has been forced to discontinue this service for people in Italy is a further demonstration of how here, as elsewhere, copyright is evidently regarded by the authorities as more important than fundamental human rights such as privacy and security.

Featured image by Anastasiya Lobanovskaya.

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