Hacker Crackdown, Italian style
Crackdowns on Italian BBSes demonstrate that US law enforcement agencies are not alone in dealing with Net crimes by shutting down as much of cyberspace as they can. Early in the morning of May 11, sysops in Italy awoke facing machine guns. Italian police, acting on a warrant, raided 119 Fidonet Italia bulletin board systems, according to Gaetano Savoldelli Pedrocchi, the Pesaro prosecutor managing the investigations. Police officials removed computer hardware, disks, answering machines, audiotapes, and other magnetic storage media, reminiscent of the infamous "Operation Sundevil" in the United States in 1990.
The police operation, code-named "Operation Hardware 1," targeted a suspected software piracy ring allegedly run by two users of a Pesaro-based BBS. The two may have used Fidonet Italia nodes to orchestrate the distribution of illegally copied software. Most likely, police officials simply raided each Fidonet node named on a public phone-list held by the two suspected software pirates.
"The crackdown needed to be done. Software piracy has become a national sport in Italy," Pedrocchi said in an interview with an Italian magazine. "We acted after precise information about the activities of a specific databank: if some operators have nothing to do with the charges, we'll verify it as soon as possible," Pedrocchi said.
Fidonet prohibits the distribution of copyrighted software and secret passwords, as does Peacelink, another system whose main node was similarly raided several weeks after the Fidonet seizures. "The software pirates are a lot more hidden than an obviously public network like Fidonet," said Franco Mulato, president of the Fidonet Association of Italy.
"This is a prime example of what happens when ignorant law enforcement butts heads with the online world," said Stanton McCandlish of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "This is why getting police and other agencies up to speed, not to mention updating the law, is so important."
Unfortunately, the Italian laws that were updated earlier this year to prohibit software piracy and copyright infringement continue to hold sysops responsible for any activity on their systems. Activists hope that when the dust clears from the raids, the relatively new Italian online community will unify to lobby for electronic civil rights laws by forming an Italian EFF-type organization.
"Even in Italy, electronic citizens are showing up," said Bernardo Parrella, US correspondent to Agora Telematica, Italy's equivalent to the Well. "The protection of civil rights is not a negotiable issue in a modern democracy." At press time, Italian courts were beginning to return the seized equipment.