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Want to check your e-mail in Italy? Bring your passport.

Sofia Celeste | The Christian Science Monitor | October 5 2005

Looking out over the cobblestone streets of Rome's Borgo Pio neighborhood, Maurizio Savoni says he's closing his Internet cafe because he doesn't want to be a "cop" anymore.

After Italy passed a new antiterrorism package in July, authorities ordered managers offering public communications services, like Mr. Savoni,to make passport photocopies of every customer seeking to use the Internet, phone, or fax.

"This new law creates a heavy atmosphere," says Savoni, his desk cluttered with passport photocopies. He is visibly irritated, as he proceeds to halt clients at the door for their ID.

Passed within weeks of the London bombings this summer, the law is part of the most extensive antiterror package introduced in Italy since 9/11 and the country's subsequent support of the Iraq war.

Though the legislation also includes measures to heighten transportation security, permit DNA collection, and facilitate the detention or deportation of suspects, average Italians are feeling its effect mainly in Internet cafes.

But while Italy has a healthy protest culture, no major opposition to the law has emerged.

Before the law was passed, Savoni's clients were anonymous to him. Now they must be identified by first and last name. He must also document which computer they use, as well as their log-in and log-out times.

Like other owners of Internet cafes, Savoni had to obtain a new public communications business license, and purchase tracking software that costs up to $1,600.

The software saves a list of all sites visited by clients, and Internet cafe operators must periodically turn this list into their local police headquarters.

"After 9/11, Madrid, and London, we all have to do our utmost best to fight terrorism," says a government official who asked not to be named.

Italy claims that its new stance on security led to the arrest of Hussein Osman, also known as Hamdi Issac - one of the men behind the failed bombing of the London underground July 21.

"Hamdi was well known to our security people and had relatives here with whom he communicated, in some form," says the government official in an e-mail interview.

But Silvia Malesa, a young Internet cafe owner in the coastal village of Olbia, Sardinia, remains unconvinced.

"This is a waste of time," says Ms. Malesa in a telephone interview. "Terrorists don't come to Internet cafes."

And now, would-be customers aren't coming either, say Savoni and Malesa. Since the law was enacted, Savoni has seen an estimated 10 percent drop in business.

"So many people who come in here ask 'why?' and then they just leave," Savoni says.

Most tourists who wander in from the streets, he explains, leave their passports at home or are discouraged when asked to sign a security disclaimer.

Savoni says the new law violates his privacy, comparing it to America's antiterrorism law that allows authorities to monitor Internet use without notifying the person in question.

"It is a control system like America's Patriot Act," he says.

Groups like the American Civil Liberties Union have criticized the Patriot Act because it permits the government to ask libraries for a list of books someone has borrowed or the websites they have visited.

Under Italy's new antiterror legislation, only those who are on a black list for terrorist connections are in danger of having their e-mails read, according to the government official.

Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu has declared Italy will stop at nothing to fight terror.

"I will continue to prioritize action to monitor the length and breadth of the country, without ever underestimating reasonably reliable reports of specific threats," said Mr. Pisanu in a Sept. 29 interview with Finmeccanica Magazine. Pisanu has also called for developing sophisticated technology to combat terror on Italian soil.

"There is no doubt that, to achieve maximum efficiency, we need the support of the best technological applications," Pisanu affirmed.

As a result, Pisanu has formed the Strategic Anti-terrorism Analysis Committee, which aims to examine and take action against all terror threats.

Due to new measures, more than 25 Islamic extremists were arrested on Italian soil in 2005, according to the Interior Ministry. The ministry also reported that they are conducting "rigorous surveillance" of high-risk areas of terrorist activity and over 13,000 strategic locations in Italy. On Aug. 12 and 13 alone, a reported 32,703 checks were carried out on suspicious individuals.

Despite the inconvenience, most Italians seem relatively unfazed by the law.

"If I am not doing anything wrong, fundamentally nothing is going to happen to me," says Mauro Pallotta, a young artist, after checking his e-mail at Savoni's cafe.

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