Italian GSM provider warns: too many wiretaps

R.A. Hettinga rah at
Sun Feb 27 17:15:34 PST 2005

<Mr-Rogers> Now, boys and girls, try not to laugh *too* hard, and be sure
you swallow your Wheaties before you read this... </M-R>



EDRI-gram ; EDRI-gram - Number 3.4, 24 February 2005

Italian GSM provider warns: too many wiretaps
24 February, 2005
Privacy | Wiretapping

The Italian mobile operator TIM, one of the largest mobile phone companies
in Italy has issued a unique warning that the number of wiretaps has
reached the limit. In a fax sent to all Italian public prosecutors they say
that they have already over-stretched their capacity from 5.000 to 7.000
simultaneously intercepted mobile phones. New requests now have to be
processed on a 'first come first serve' basis, they write.

 Even more unique in the current secretive environment of law enforcement,
the Italian Minister of Justice Roberto Castelli (right-wing Lega Nord) has
provided the newspaper Repubblica with statistics about the number of
wiretaps and costs. The number of wiretaps has doubled every two years, he
said, from 32.000 intercepts in 2001, to 45.000 in 2002, to 77.000 in 2003.
He estimates the number of wiretaps in 2004 to be 100.000, costing the
Justice department aprox 300.00 million euro in cost reimbursements. In
2003 the department of Justice spent 225 million euro on the intercepts, in
2002 230 million and in 2001 165 million.

 Castelli admitted the number of police intercepts in Italy was very high.
Currently Italy has aprox 58 million inhabitants. With 100.000 intercepts
in 2004, Italy orders 172 judicial intercepts per 100.000 inhabitants.
There is no information about wiretaps ordered by secret services in any

 Castelli referred to the report of the German Max Planck Institute which
already concluded Italy was the wiretapping champion of the (western) world
with 76 intercepts per 100.000 inhabitants (44.000 wiretaps in 1996). The
number two on the European wiretapping list in 1996, the Netherlands,
refuses to provide any recent statistics. According to unofficial estimates
the Netherlands intercepted 12.000 phones (fixed and mobile) in 2004. If
those numbers are correct, the Netherlands have 75 intercepts per 100.000
inhabitants. In the United States, the most recent public statistics date
from 2002. They mention 1.273 court ordered intercepts on a population of
aprox 293 million, totalling 0,43 intercepts per 100.000 inhabitants. The
UK Communication Commissioner mentions a total of 1.983 warrants for
intercepts in 2003 on a population of 59,5 million, totalling 3,3
intercepts per 100.000 inhabitants.

 One possible explanation for the explosion of the number of wiretaps in
Italy is their short duration. An order is valid for 15 days and can only
be extended with a new motivation from a magistrate. Only for
investigations into organised crime an intercept can last 40 days. In many
other countries, intercepts have a duration of 1 to 3 months.

 Vodafone and Wind, two other major mobile phone companies, are also
reaching their maximum wiretapping capacity, reports Repubblica. While
Castelli used the occasion to warn against overuse of wiretapping in
investigations, the Italian magistracy doesn't seem to agree. Edmondo Bruto
Liberati, President the National Association of Magistrates (association of
both judges and public prosecutors) stressed that wiretapping is much
cheaper than individual covert surveillance. He complained about the vast
under-financing the judicial apparatus is currently suffering from.

 This public debate between the Minister and the magistracy points at a
more fundamental division in Italian politics. By stressing the immense
costs of wiretapping the Minister of Justice adds weight to his attempt to
shift the costs to the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Generally the Minister
pictures an image of a foolish magistracy that abundantly spends public
money. This comes as no surprise to many Italians, given the tense
relationship between Berlusconi and the magistracy.

 MP Giovanni Russo Spena (left wing opposition, Rifondazione Comunista) has
demanded an explanation from the government about the massive use of
wiretapping in investigations and wishes to be informed how citizens are
protected against this potential and actual invasion of their privacy

R. A. Hettinga <mailto: rah at>
The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <>
44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
"... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
[predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'

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