Italy to remove public Wi-Fi restrictions

Businesses that want to offer Wi-Fi access will no longer need a special license from the police

Italy will remove existing restrictions on public Wi-Fi access to the Internet starting in January, Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni announced Friday.

The government will abolish the Pisanu decree, which requires that businesses obtain a special license from the police in order to offer Wi-Fi access to the public and that users produce an official identity document, Maroni said at a press conference. The decree also requires that operators preserve a written record of Internet use.

The decree was introduced for security reasons five years ago by then-Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu in the wake of the July terrorist bombings in London. Since then it has been renewed every year and is blamed for stunting the development of Wi-Fi technology in Italy.

Italy has just 4,200 Wi-Fi hot spots, according to the Economic Development Ministry, while specialist publications put the figure even lower, at less than 2,000.

Maroni said he decided on the liberalisation after consulting security experts during a recent visit to Israel. "Between now and December we will consider what are the adequate security standards and from Jan. 1 citizens will be free to connect to Wi-Fi systems without the restrictions introduced five years ago, which have been superseded by technological advances," the minister said.

Politicians of all political colors welcomed the move, but Antonio Di Pietro, leader of the opposition Italy of Values party, said he first wanted to see how Maroni planned to balance the demands of free navigation and security.

There were rumors the government planned a system to identify Wi-Fi users via SMS messages, Di Pietro wrote on his blog. "All too frequently this government has trumpeted announcements that were not followed by concrete action," Di Pietro wrote.

Technical journalist Sergio Maistrello was also cautious in his welcome of the news. "We are celebrating something that doesn't take us forward but simply brings us back to the starting line, from which we voluntarily chose to step back," Maistrello told the ANSA news agency.

Maistrello said he was not convinced Italian politicians appreciated the importance of the Internet for the country's economic development. "Internet can't be judged, and even less regulated, with the cultural instruments of the 1980s," he said.

Piero Grasso, the national antimafia prosecutor, was even less thrilled. "Not being able to identify Internet users means giving a free pass to a whole series of crimes, from pedophilia to terrorism," Grasso said in a television interview.

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