Italian Wikipedia users have been greeted with an unfortunate surprise today. Upon visiting the website, a new message appears explaining that the Italian branch of the free encyclopedia may be coming to a close soon. That's assuming new wiretapping laws come into power, laws which administrators say threaten "the very pillars on which Wikipedia has been built".
In short, the law would allow anyone to make a complaint against any piece of information the user deems detrimental to their image. Within 48 hours, the website needs to have made the required corrections without any comment. Wikipedia points out that under the proposed law, whether or not the information is true is irrelevant. For a website trying to offer a free encyclopedia, this has caused some concerns.
Article 595 of the Italian Criminal Code, Wikipedia states, already deals with the issue of defamation. The community has a long standing tradition of taking votes before making decisions, but the statement says that "in the very rare instances it was not possible to reach a mutually satisfactory solution, the entire page has been removed." The statement includes extracts from the new law, as well as an extract from Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The Italian branch currently has around 870,000 articles on it. While a far cry from the enormity of the English version, it still represents a sizeable chunk of the encyclopedia's total efforts. Losing all such data, as well as a community of contributors, would be a major loss for the overall site, as well as for the community's overall goal of collecting knowledge into a freely accessible database usable by all.