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Nannies, bibs and gags

July 1998
disponibile anche in Italiano

  Giancarlo Livraghi
For other comments on internet marketing
see the Netmarketing online newsletter

  Italy is a strange country. We keep saying that we are suffocated by too many rules and bureaucracy, that the accumulation of poorly conceived legislation breeds corruption and inefficiency. Experts say that we have 100,000 more laws than we can possibly need; and that makes practically everybody an outlaw, because the legislation is so complicated that nobody understands it. But we continue to add new laws and rules, that rarely solve any problems and often make things worse.

The internet is just beginning to grow, e-business is in its infancy, and already our legislators and rule-makers are doing all they can to mess it up before they’ve had a chance to understand what it is. They don’t even try to correct the bad existing laws, such as the so-called "privacy act" that does nothing to protect privacy and is producing vast quantities of unnecessary red tape; and they are getting ready to produce an additional mass of rules and restrictions, as was publicly announced recently in Rome by senior government people.

Parliament is working on new legislation about the protection of minors. Will it be a good law? That seems unlikely. Lots of cosmetics, little that is going to be of any use to help children and families. And some absurd, useless and dangerous prescriptions about the internet, of the sort that will do nothing to help young people but can open the way for persecution and censorship.

I don’t think we should trust these self-appointed nannies. They seem to think that we are all messy children, and rather stupid; they want to force us to use bibs that can easily turn into gags.

Of course I think privacy should be protected, and I don’t think it’s good business to let criminals or thieves run free, in the net or anywhere else. But we don’t need new laws or restrictions; what we need is a better understanding by everyone, and especially the authorities, of how the internet really works. It’s pretty clear from what they say and do that the don’t know what they are talking about – and they don’t seem very willing to learn.

Will the European Union help? Perhaps. Many of their statements are encouraging: they say "global information networks" should be encouraged and not restricted, that freedom of the net should be protected at all cost, etcetera. They should avoid bad rulings and discourage local governments from interfering. But I don’t think we can be totally comfortable. There are quite a few people in Brussels that would welcome restrictions ad censorship.

Some businessmen say: "I don’t care; business is business, civil rights are something else." I think they are wrong, for two reasons. The first is that trade and business grow much better in a free and open environment. The second is that when they start with restrictions and bureaucracy the disease tends to spread, and sooner or later it interferes with business as well.

We should be on alert, in Europe and worldwide. If we want the net to be a tool for business, economic growth and new jobs, we must watch out for overzealous nannies that may suffocate the child before it has a chance to learn to walk.

"Stop press"

Just as this issue of Web Marketing Tools is going into print (and this text is ready to go online) there is some pretty worrying news. On orders by a Vicenza magistrate, Dr. Paolo Pecori, on June 27 the police in Bologna seized an internet server hosting the ecn website. Hundreds of people and many public service organizations and online communities were suddenly and unexpectedly cut off from the net. The reason was a single message (of thousands on that site) that somebody considered objectionable. Even without getting into the substance of the case (which is quite ridiculous) it’s obvious that the seizure was totally unjustified, unnecessary, illegal and very damaging for a large number of people and organizations that have nothing to do with the matter that is being investigated. This is a particularly serious case, but unfortunately not the only example of the incompetence and persecutory attitude of authorities in our country.

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