April 30, 2009

Minnesota Requests ISP Ban On Gambling Sites

Officials in Minnesota are trying to use a federal law that enables restrictions on phone calls used for wagering to block online gambling sites.

As of Wednesday, the state's Department of Public Safety had asked 11 Internet service providers to block access to 200 online gambling sites.

Minnesota officials are citing a federal law requiring "common carriers" to comply with the request to block telecommunications services used for gambling.

Internet service providers are not considered common carriers, so it's unlikely that ISP's will comply with the request, said John Morris, of the Center for Democracy and Technology.

According to Morris, the law in question only applies to phone companies doing direct business with bet-takers.  Online gambling is already illegal in the U.S.; so gambling sites are based overseas, meaning U.S. ISPs do not have direct contact with them.

"I think this is a very problematic and significant misreading of the statute," Morris said.

Pennsylvania briefly imposed similar requirements asking ISPs to block child-pornography sites.

In 2004, a federal court struck down the law because the filters affected Internet users outside the state, and blocked legitimate web sites.

John Willems, director of the Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division of Minnesota's Department of Public Safety, says the requests "seem to be a reasonable application of the law," due to the fact that telecommunications companies now provide more than just phone service,

"We'll see how the conversation unfolds from there," he added.

AT&T Inc. said it was reviewing the request to block the list of gambling sites.

Comcast Corp. and Qwest Communications International Inc. had no comments on the request.

John Palfrey, of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, said that filtering sites through Internet service providers has all but been abandoned due to its poor rate of success. 

Even if the ISPs were to cooperate, online gamblers might get around the filters by finding sites that aren't on the list, Palfrey added.

According to Willems, Minnesota officials may expand the list of blocked gambling sites beyond 200 in the near future.


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