Fresh on the heels of Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear seizing and pursuing the forfeiture of 141 internet gambling domain names in the United States, the buzz in Australia surrounds a plan to ban pornography and internet gambling sites from being accessed by residents of that country. According to an article published in The Age, an Australian news outlet, Family First Senator Steve Fielding is in favor of blocking “hardcore pornography and fetish material” by ISPs in Australia. The Age claims that Senator Xenophon “would look to use [the ban] to block Australians from accessing overseas online casino sites, which are illegal to run in Australia.”
Communications Minister and Senator Stephen Conroy told The Age of a two-tiered program that would be enacted to block content from being accessed on Australian computers: “The first tier would be compulsory for all Australians and would block all ‘illegal material’ as determined in part by a blacklist administered by the Australian Communications and Media Authority.” The second tier blocks content that is not appropriate for children and includes pornography.
Senator Nick Minchin told The Age, “That’s the problem with having this sort of highly centralized government-mandated nationwide filtering system. The argy-bargy that would result over what is in and what is out strikes me as being almost impossible to manage and it would be a cat chasing its tail.” Concerns that legal content could also be threatened by the blockage have also been raised.
The Australian debate strikes a familiar tone to the arguments being waged in Kentucky in the United States, where the state’s Governor, Steve Beshear, issued an order to seize 141 of the world’s largest internet gambling domain names, including AbsolutePoker.com, UltimateBet.com, PokerStars.com, FullTiltPoker.com, BodogLife.com, CakePoker.com, DoylesRoom.com, and Microgaming.com. Censorship arguments have been brought up en masse as the opposition rallies behind the Interactive Gaming Council (IGC) and Interactive Media and Entertainment Gaming Association (iMEGA). Of note is that TwinSpires.com, a site that allows online wagering on horse racing, is not among the sites targeted, as it is owned by Kentucky-based Churchill Downs Incorporated.
The Age questions whether government filtering systems will be able to identify and block content effectively and quickly. In the United States, the blockage comes in the form of the rights to use of domain names being revoked. The IGC and iMEGA have both filed petitions to the Kentucky Court of Appeals even though the case at the Circuit Court level is not yet complete. The petitions allege that the State did not have jurisdiction to act and that companies will suffer harm if their domain names are no longer operable.
In his decision to uphold the seizure order on October 16th, Judge Thomas Wingate addressed some of the concerns raised about the overall regulation of the internet, the same types of questions being raised by lawmakers in Australia: “We note that Opposing Groups and Lawyers argue any judicial interference of the Internet will create havoc. This doomsday argument does not ruffle the Court. The Internet, with all its benefits and advantages to modern day commerce and life, is still not above the law.”
CommsDay news notes that Conroy would need to win over the “Australian Greens,” Xenophon, and Fielding in order to have enough votes to be able to pass any anti-internet gambling legislation.
Groups like iMEGA have argued that any censorship sets a dangerous precedent. Specifically, on the case in Kentucky, iMEGA claimed, “What Judge Wingate has done is to create the ‘ultimate weapon’ to be used by the powerful and influential to attack content they oppose. This will enable government to eliminate competition from differing ideas, beliefs and commerce. This decision today is where it starts, but where will it stop?”