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Origins of Law 547/1993

Law No. 547 of 1993 represents a turning point in the regulation and punishment of cybercrimes in Italy. Before this law, the legislator had adopted a fragmented and case-by-case approach, introducing laws that, starting from the late 1970s, dealt with the issue of electronic devices without providing a comprehensive and adequate regulation for a range of specific offenses.

Previous Legislation

Before Law No. 547/1993, the legislator had enacted regulations such as Law No. 191 of 1978, which introduced Article 420 of the Penal Code regarding attacks on public utility systems, and Law No. 197 of 1991, which included penalties for the misuse of credit cards. However, these laws were insufficient to comprehensively regulate cybercrimes.

The Council of Europe’s 1989 Recommendation

A significant impetus for the preparation of Law No. 547/1993 came from the Council of Europe’s 1989 Recommendation on computer-related crime. The recommendation included a minimum list of offenses that were mandatorily punishable, such as computer fraud, forgery in computer documents, and computer sabotage, and an optional list of offenses punishable at the discretion of national legislators.

The Callà Commission and the Draft Law

In 1989, the Council of Europe’s Recommendation prompted the Italian legislator to review the criminal provisions related to cybercrimes. The Callà Commission, composed of jurists and computer experts, was established and began a four-year project. The Commission drafted a bill presented to the Senate on March 26, 1993, by Minister of Justice Giovanni Conso, which was then converted into law on December 23, 1993, becoming Law No. 547/1993.

Features of Law No. 547/1993

Law No. 547/1993 was necessary because cybercrimes represented a new category compared to traditional crimes. The notion of a criminally relevant “action” in cyberspace assumes peculiar and complex characteristics. The legislator decided to adhere closely to the text of the Council of Europe’s Recommendation, including both the minimum list of offenses and some from the optional list, such as data or program alteration and computer espionage.

Updates to the Penal Code

The legislator chose to update the Penal Code rather than enact a separate new law, considering cybercrimes as new forms of aggression against legal goods already protected by the Code. This choice was positively received by some scholars, although others believed that a specific law for cybercrimes would have been more appropriate.

Sectors Regulated by Law No. 547/1993

Law No. 547/1993 intervened in extremely heterogeneous sectors, which can be grouped into four main macro-categories:

Computer Fraud

Computer fraud is regulated by Article 640-ter of the Penal Code, similar to the crime of fraud but characterized by the use of computer devices. An emblematic example of this crime is online fraud.

Document Forgery

The forgery of computer documents is regulated by Article 491-bis of the Penal Code, which equates the forgery of computer documents to that of paper documents.

Breach of Data and System Integrity

The law added Articles 635-bis, 635-ter, 635-quater, and 635-quinquies to the Penal Code, also modifying pre-existing provisions such as Article 392 of the Penal Code on “violence against things” and Article 420 of the Penal Code on attacks on public utility systems.

Violation of Communication Privacy

The legislator criminalized the conduct of unauthorized access to a computer or telematic system under Article 615-ter of the Penal Code, and expanded the scope of Article 621 of the Penal Code on the disclosure of secret document contents, including those on computer devices. Additional offenses are contained in Articles 617-quater and 617-quinquies of the Penal Code concerning the interception and installation of devices to intercept computer communications.

Law No. 547/1993 represents a turning point in the fight against cybercrimes in Italy, providing a clear and updated regulatory framework. The adoption of this law has allowed for more effective tackling of the challenges posed by technological evolution and the increasing diffusion of computer systems, ensuring greater protection of legal interests and citizens’ rights in cyberspace.