Telephone interception on the rise in the US. And in Italy?

In the States, the public opinion is extremely sensitive when it comes to financial crimes, especially when Wall Street is involved, where huge sums of money are constantly moving; these huge sums are often made up of normal people’s lifetime savings, and thanks to reckless financial operations carried out by so-called “wizards”, these savings may end up disappearing within a short time.

To fight such crimes, certainly one of the most efficient methods is using telephone eavesdropping, which can prove very useful in gathering intelligence to fight tax evasion, scams and financial offences of several kinds.

In fact, if thanks to the usage of miniature bugs, the US law enforcement has been able to uncover scams as big as the one perpetrated by the Ponzi-scheme master Bernie Madoff, who embezzled something like 15 billion dollars over the course of several years, recourse to interception, both for phone calls and for conversations that take place inside a room or a conference hall, can also be a great tool to fight terror, which is often tightly connected to the world of finance.

In the US territory, during the year 2009, interception of phone calls and environmental conversations has increased 26% in comparison with the previous year. Obviously, the US justice places a great deal of trust in the technicians specialized in this kind of war against crime, in the analysts who work on the intelligence gathered, and in detectives who place all this information into the right context to fight crime and defeat terrorist cells or scammers’ gangs of any kind and at any level.

Without including in the count investigations for crimes connected to terrorism and national security, whose data is not published, last year the installation of bugs, listening devices and hidden microphones in the US has been authorized for more than 280 thousand people.

In Italy instead, by hiding behind the excuse that “honest people are afraid that their conversations might be eavesdropped” or that “trials happen first on the media and then before a court”, the Berlusconi administration is doing everything to pass a bill which, by limiting recourse to interception of phone calls and conversations, and reducing the lifespan of eavesdropping operations, would in the end make life much easier for criminals, scammers, pedophiles or mobsters, while tying the detectives’ hands, or at least, making their job much harder than now.

According to this bill, telephone interception will be possible only for criminal offences which can be punished with more than 5 years in prison, and for a maximum of 75 days, which can be prolonged by 3 days at the time after a specific court order (one every 3 days). For mafia crimes, the time limit is 40 days and can be extended of 20 days at a time. Environmental eavesdropping will be done via bugs which can be installed only for a maximum of 3 days (plus a 3-day extension).

Furthermore, it will no longer be possible to publish the intercepted conversations on newspapers or magazines, otherwise journalists might be sent to jail, and their editors dearly fined.

All this goes in a direction which is exactly the opposite of the world trend (as we can see from US statistics) of using the services of the much-feared, ever present and almighty technological “Big Brother” which can potentially listen to our every breath, by taking advantage of possibilities offered by technological advancement to defend honest people and fight crimes, not only of a financial nature but also connected with terrorism, drug trafficking and organized crime.

Only a few weeks ago, with an unprecedented move, even the US Administration showed a polite, albeit clear, criticism of this new Italian bill. What we all hope for, not only those who work in the surveillance or law enforcement field, is that the Italian government takes a step back and rethinks its position.

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