My report from just a week ago, about the data irregularities in papers from Italian haematologist and cancer researcher Giorgio Zauli provoked a response of a legal threat, of both criminal and civil prosecution. Zauli is namely rector of the University of Ferrara, and he issued this threat in this official capacity, acting for his Italian university. I was already made aware of Zauli’s threats of suing me from a first-hand source, and my site was indeed accessed by Italian State prosecutor’s office the day after I published my article about Zauli’s flawed cytometry and other problematic data in research papers he mostly co-authored with Ferrara’s Head of Department, Paola Secchiero. This letter from Zauli below, which reached me today per certified mail, is the more bizarre due to the fact the university denied any knowledge of Zauli’s legal threats (see the update here).
In any case, here is the letter, on the headed paper of the University of Ferrara, which even paid the postage. Zauli and his university apparently assume that their research publications and public institutional profiles are personal data, protected by EU privacy regulations. Maybe rector Zauli is confused at to where the Latin-derived word “publications” comes from. It’s from “public” and certainly not from “pubic”, hence definitely not his sphere of personal privacy. Though his publications could profit from some data integrity hygiene. In any case, the Ethics Commission of University of Ferrara will convene on June 1st to decide what to do about the publicly available PubPeer evidence I reported about. The scanned original is here. Please disseminate widely.
I, prof. Giorgio Zauli, currently pro-tempore Rector of the University of Ferrara, hereby report that on May 15th 2018 the website “ForbetterScience” published a post created by Leonid Schneider – independent science journalist – reporting fake and unproven informations on alleged incorrectness of some scientistic publications of the undersigned.
The above mentioned “ForbetterScience” post is visible in and linked to the following websites:
The reported statements are totally unfounded and have been the object of a criminal complaint made by the undersigned to the prosecutor’s office of the Republic of Ferrara on 16th May 2018.
Further legal actions will follow in both criminal and civil matters.
In order to defend the integrity of the undersigned, also in light of the public role held, I request the immediate removal of the above mentioned posts from your search engine both known and unknown in accordance to the following law sentence:
JUDGMENT OF THE COURT (Grand Chamber) 13 May 2014 Personal data — Protection of individuals with regard to the processing ofsuch data — Directive 95/46/EC — Articles 2, 4, I2 and 14 — Material and territorial scope — Internet search engines — Processing of data contained on websites — Searching for, indexing and storage of such data — Responsibility of the operator of the search engine Establishment on the territory of a Member State — Extent of that operator’s obligations and of the data subject’s rights Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union Articles 7 and 8, and whose conclusions are reported below:
On those grounds, the Court (Grand Chamber) hereby rules:
1. Article 2(b) and (d) of Directive 95/46/EC of the European Parliament and ofthe Council of 24 October I995 on the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data are to be interpreted as meaning that, first, the activity of a search engine consisting in finding information published or placed on the internet by third parties, indexing it automatically, storing it temporarily and, finally, making it available to internet users according to a particular order of preference must be classified as ‘processing of personal data’ within the meaning of Article 2(b) when that information contains personal data and, second, the operator of the search engine must be regarded as the ‘controller’ in respect of that processing, within the meaning of Article 2(d).
2. Article 4(1) (a) of Directive 95/46 is to be interpreted as meaning that processing of personal data is carried out in the context of the activities of an establishment of the controller on the territory of a Member State, within the meaning of that provision, when the operator ofa search engine sets up in a Member State a branch or subsidiary which is intended to promote and sell advertising space offered by that engine and which orientates its activity towards the inhabitants of that Member State.
3. Article 12(b) and subparagraph (a) of the first paragraph of Article 14 of Directive 95/46 are to be interpreted as meaning that, in order to comply with the rights laid down in those provisions and in so far as the conditions laid down by those provisions are in fact satisfied, the operator of a search engine is obliged to remove from the list of results displayed following a search made on the basis of a person ’s name links to web pages, published by third parties and containing information relating to that person, also in a case where that name or information is not erased before hand or simultaneously from those web pages, and even, as the case may be, when its publication in itself on those pages is lawful.
4. Article 12(b) and subparagraph (a) of the first paragraph of Article 14 of Directive 95/46 are to be interpreted as meaning that, when appraising the conditions for the application of those provisions, it should inter alia be examined whether the data subject has a right that the information in question relating to him personally should, at this point in time, no longer be linked to his name by a list of results displayed following a search made on the basis of his name, without it being necessary in order to find such a right that the inclusion of the information in question in that list causes prejudice to the data subject. As the data subject may, in the light of his fundamental rights under Articles 7 and 8 of the Charter, request that the information in Question no longer be made available to the general public on account of its inclusion in such a list of results, those rights override, as a rule, not only the economic interest of the operator of the search engine but also the interest of the general public in having access to that information upon a search relating to the data subject’s name. However, that would not be the case if it appeared, for particular reasons, such as the role played by the data subject in public life, that the interference with his fundamental rights is justified by the preponderant interest of the general public in having, on account of its inclusion in the list of results, access to the information in question.
If you do not proceed to comply with this request immediately, I shall be forced to take legal actions against this company.
Ferrara, May 17th 2018
Update 28.05.2018. The comment section below overflows with new evidence posted by “Zebedee”. Which prompted another one of my readers to contribute something on one of those papers, on a Zauli-coauthored Ultimo et al Oncotarget 2017 by his Ferrara colleague Luca Neri:
Update 5.06.2018. The Ethics Commission of University of Ferrara now issued a press release. Law professor Andrea Pugiotto and colleagues declare all the evidence submitted by me is inadmissible, because only those employed or studying at the university can report suspected misconduct. Instead, Zauli himself apparently requested this inadmissibility decision, and possibly also raised a complaint against me with the Ethics Commission. Indeed, the university keeps refusing to comment on the criminal and civil actions it announced against me.
This is the translated press release:
On 1 June 2018, at 14:30, the Ethics Commission of the University of Ferrara met to deliberate, as a preliminary ruling, on the admissibility of the petition presented by Mr. Leonid Schneider (protocol No. 64072 – 16 May 2018) and the documentation in response filed by Prof. Giorgio Zauli (protocol No. 66968 -1 June 2018).
2. From a subjective point of view, the petition presented by Mr Leonid Schneider is inadmissible, for the absorbing reason of the applicant’s lack of legitimacy to act before this Commission.
In fact, the Ethics Committee can be contacted or reported any behaviour contrary to the University Code of Ethics by “professors, researchers, administrative staff, students and any other University member” (Article 14, paragraph 1), including in the residual category “all those who for various reasons spend periods of research, teaching and study at the University” (thus the Preamble to the Code of Ethics).
3. The documentation filed by Prof. Giorgio Zauli, with explicit request to be examined at the first possible session, is intended by the Commission as a request for an opinion on the application of the University Code of Ethics to the case described (Article 14, 1 ° paragraph, letter c).
The applicant’s legitimacy to act is certain, just as the application meets the criteria for its taking into consideration.
Update II, 5.06.2018. Zauli now contacted on behalf of University of Ferrara… TWITTER. I received this message from twitter legal department, with this official letter by Zauli attached (so, if my Twitter accounts gets removed, thank Zauli!):
“We are writing to inform you that Twitter has received official correspondence attached regarding your Twitter account, @schneiderleonid.
The correspondence claims that the following Tweet, is illegal:
Twitter has not taken any action on the reported content at this time. We are only writing to inform you of content posted to your account which has been mentioned in a complaint.
We may be obligated to take action regarding the content identified in the complaint in the future. Please let us know by replying to this email as soon as possible if you decide to voluntarily remove the content identified on your account”.
Update 25.11.2018. University of Ferrara did not bury the case as one might have suspected. The local newspaper Estense reported on 9.11.2018 that the issue is being investigated. The Ethics Commission of the university needed to reassemble after one of its members, Zauli’s coauthor Gian Matteo Rigolin, reclused himself from participation in the investigative process. On 23.11.2018, the Commission met to discuss the Zauli case (point 1 on the agenda here), but no announcement was made otherwise.
There is hope!
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