You think Bush has got the U.S. press well tamed (Katrina outrage notwithstanding)? He’s got nothing on Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s wily master of corporate greed-turned-Prime Minster. Back when he got the country’s Top Job, Berlusconi refused calls to divest himself of some his businesses, claming to see no conflict of interest between his and his companies’ holdings and the greater good of serving his country.

No conflict of interest? Before he was PM, this media mogul was Italy’s Ted Turner, Rupert Murdoch, and Disney Corp. all rolled into one. Italy, you see, has seven main national television channels: the three state-run RAI networks—inventively named, in the great tradition of the BBC, RAI 1, RAI 2, and RAI 3—the three private channels owned by Mediaset—Italia 1, Rete 4, and Canale 5–and tiny little Telemontecarlo, which a few years ago, apparently feeling left out of the number club, re-branded itself as “La 7.”

Two guesses as to who owns Mediaset. I’ll give you a hint. It’s the same man who now, as Prime Minster, has direct control over the three RAI stations as well.

Yep, Sivlio Berlusconi personally controls a whopping his 98% share of Italy’s national television market. Did I mention he also happens to own the nation’s largest publishing house, and as a sideline publishes several of the country’s most widely-circulated daily newspapers?

Well, apparently this near-lock on the flow of information in Italy wasn’t enough for old Silvio. I can only imagine him sighing with envy over the kind of control exercised by Kim Il Jung in North Korea. Which is why, this fall, Silvio has set his sights on the last great bastion of information available in Italy: the Internet.

On September 26, a brand-new Italian law went into effect. They call it Anti-Terrorism Law 155/05–one of those ridiculous “let’s show the public we’re doing something, at least” legal Band-Aids that won’t amount to much more than a massive waste of time and bureaucracy. The new law requires every Internet cafe, every hotel with a Mac on an ADSL line, and every pub with a PC stuck in the corner to photocopy of the identity card or passport of anyone wishing to use the Internet, so that the government can track what they do online.

OK. Italy is (understandably) getting a bit jittery about the specter of a terrorist attack. Britain and Spain have both suffered bombings due to their participation in Bush’s war, but—all due respect to Poland and the Federated Republic of Micronesia—the next major US ally in the Iraq war is Italy, which has so far gone unscathed (unless you count the attacks on Sharm el Sheik, which is a bit like Italy’s Cancun).

In fact, on Monday they’re going to kill 26 manniquins, gravely injure 312 amateur actors, and close off all traffic in a vast triangle of Rome’s historic center from the Colosseum to Piazza della Repubblica to Piazza Navona. It’s all part of a test to see how the Eternal City’s emergency response teams would react to a series of suicide bombs (in this case, faked with smoke cannisters) going off at the Colosseum, on the Metro, and on the famed no. 64 bus as it cruises down Corso Vittorio Emanuele II on its way to St. Peter’s. (This time, though, they’ll do without the fake blood that turned a similar exercise in Milan into such a farce.)

But this frighteningly Orwellian turn of events with the Internet law doesn’t seem as if it’ll be able to do much good in the end, anyway. No one seems to be able to explain satisfactorily just how keeping these kinds of tabs on surfing will help them catch the bad guys. All the bad guys have to do is find some bar with a few Internet terminals on unsecured WiFi, loaf around outside, and use their Palmtops to surf. I’ve found spots like that in every town so far–and we’re talking teensy places, like Sorrento, Anacapri, and Positano. Imagine how many there are in Rome or Milan.

OK. So the law is, in the end, not only useless, it’s fundamentally unenforceable. So that means it’s merely a big pain in the neck for all us non-terrorists out there—beyond just the issues of violation of privacy, concept of free speech, and other high-falutin’ ideals.

Let’s say your hotel keeps hold of your passport, as many do (in order to register the information in it later at their convenience, rather than now at yours), or you decide to leave it in your hotel or room safe rather than cart it around with you—for safety reasons, or because you are headed to the beach to swim, or whatever. That means you can’t just pop into an Internet café whilst you’re out and about to check email or dash off an “I’m in Capri, aren’t you jealous?” email to friends back home (or, ahem, update your blog).

There’s also been a (totally understandable) knee-jerk reaction amongst the providers of many free WiFi hotspots to yank the plug, as they have no way of knowing, let alone collecting data on, who might be piggybacking on their signal, and yet they would be held responsible for breaking the law.

As for me, it means it’s back to the old hotel room phone line or finding a good, clear cell signal and suffering ultra-slow (and expensive) dial-up when I want to go online with my own laptop.

So here’s to Big Brother Berlusconi, doing what he can to keep Italy safe from video poker players, teenage porn downloaders, students researching papers, lovers trading mushy IMs, road warriors checking in with the office, tourists booking hotel rooms, and travel writers doing their jobs.

Oh, and on the off-chance that a highly-trained sleeper cell might slip up and decide to pop into an internet café in order to broadcast a mass email detailing its secret plans to blow up the Colosseum, the terrorists as well.