Anonymity ban being explored for blogs

By Eva Karamanoli

A new bill being prepared by the Justice Ministry could spell an end to Internet anonymity for the country?s approximately 55,000 bloggers.

During a recent briefing of the Parliamentary Committee on Institutional Issues and Transparency, Justice Minister Miltiadis Papaioannou announced the establishment of a law preparatory committee -- to be chaired by Council of State Vice President Athanasios Rantos -- to hammer out a set of measures regarding the identification of blog providers and Internet service users.

The committee is also set to examine the idea of expanding the list of crimes for whose investigation disclosure of confidential communication is permitted.

Apart from outlining the legal framework, the new body is entrusted with finding ways to protect freedom of expression and citizen safety. It is scheduled to present its proposals by the end of September.

Past governments have pondered legislation aimed at lifting the anonymity of bloggers when they are found to be breaking the law. To date, any wrongdoing has been dealt with using laws regarding the press and the confidentiality of communications.

The lack of a legal framework essentially protects the anonymity of bloggers and in cases when the suspected crimes are misdemeanors, the Hellenic Authority of Communications Security and Privacy (ADAE) does not order the removal of privacy restrictions.

Supreme Court prosecutors Giorgos Sanidas and Ioannis Tentes and, more recently, Supreme Court deputy prosecutor Athanasios Katsirodis have said they are in favor of lifting bloggers? anonymity. According to the senior judicial officials, investigative authorities can ask Internet providers to disclose the details of individuals who are suspected of criminal activity as well as misdemeanors.

Judicial authorities can ask Internet service providers to make the details of users who commit a range of crimes via the Internet available without having to abide by the restrictions of privacy laws. Of course, these recommendations do not constitute official legislation, so in most cases anonymity is preserved.

In essence, the removal of privacy restrictions -- which follows a request by the cyber crime unit of the Greek police to Google and Hotmail -- is rarely enforced. Providers only reveal the name of the blog administrator if the site has posted threats against a person?s life.

It is unlikely that providers will fulfill the authorities? demands, but as the recent case of the ?Fimotro? blog showed, it is not impossible.