Among Western Europe's democracies, Italy makes the most use of wiretaps-more than 100,000 times a year. As the use of wiretaps has quadrupled since 2001, the cost of listening and documenting the conversations has grown exponentially. At 220 million euro annually, it now amounts to roughly a third of the Justice Ministry's budget. Not only are there are so many wiretap transcripts, but journalists have easy access to them. Italian dailies often publish excerpts, usually those involving celebrities and politicians. Heavy and costly reliance on bugging techniques in police investigations has spurred the majority government to reform Italy's current wiretapping legislation. The country's centre-right administration recently forged ahead with a highly contested measure that would restrict wiretapping to serious criminal cases that could result in punishments of 10 years or more, and investigations of organized crime and terrorism.
The draft bill would limit phone taps to a period of three months and require authorization by a panel of magistrates. Those who conduct unauthorized wiretaps or publish transcripts would face a possible five-year prison term.