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IIA Study Rejects Australian Gambling Bill's Filter

Press reports suggest that the Australian Federal Government is set to pass it's anti-gambling bill this week, with an Internet Industry Association-commissioned Gartner study concluding that blocking access to sites would be infeasible.

In a difference of opinions that is reminiscent of the debate surrounding the introduction of the content regulation legislation, the IIA is questioning the technical feasibility of a Federal Government proposal to 'block' access to offshore gambling sites. >[? "If you read this Bill, you would think it the most pernicious influence in our lives -- why else would you subject Internet Service Providers to criminal sanctions for providing access to sites they have no knowledge of or control over, especially when the same services are legal offline?" said Peter Coroneos of the Internet Industry Association, in a repeat of its stance against the proposal to block offending content floated during the debate over the content regulation Bill.

At issue are provisions in the Interactive Gambling Bill 2001 which are considered to be impossible to implement, with many asking whether the Government has produced legislation that is unworkable, a claim the ALP is using to back up its' decision not to support the legislation.

It seems that weekend concessions to the Australian sports wagering industry have been incorporated into the Federal position, with Senator Richard Alston agreeing to some relaxation of the Act to exclude sports wagering. In addition, the National Party has announced it opposes online wagering on regional race meetings, with the idea that the regional racing industry will be affected if punters choose to bet from home.

The Federal Government is banking on support from three democrats and Greens Senator Bob Brown to pass the Bill, something it is believed to have secured.

The ABA is instructed to investigate gambling services which are clearly Australian-located, owned or operated businesses, operating online and where "the service has an Australian-customer link." It's here that confusion starts to creep in, with the Act reading that "For the purposes of this Act, a gambling service has an Australian-customer link if, and only if, any or all of the customers of the service are physically present in Australia".

The IIA's spokesperson, Peter Coroneos, said on Friday that the legislation is so flawed it needs to be rejected outright, rather than risking its passage with amendment by the Senate, something the IIA rejects outright. "The legislation is technically inept and has no real prospects of protecting those whom it claims to protect. From a technical viewpoint, the Bill will damage industry participants who are forced to try to make it work while delivering no tangible benefit to end users."

Coroneos went on to say that "It is not an answer for government to say: 'Well, the Internet is more accessible.'" If that is so, why are they not banning phone betting. There is a phone in every home. The have the power to do this, but they choose not to."

Concern lingers over exactly what position ISPs are in now that the ABA is in a position to notify them to block access to overseas sites that host wagering that can be accessed by Australian Internet users. According to the Act, when a complaint is received, or if the ABA through its' own investigation finds a site overseas offering gambling services is accessible (that is, it is on the Internet and can be found by anyone with access to it), the ABA is obliged to "Give each Internet service provider known to the ABA a written notice (a standard access-prevention notice) directing the provider to take all reasonable steps to prevent end-users from accessing the content."

While the provision is subject to exemptions based upon its workability on a case by case basis, it still leaves the Federal Government in the position of authoring and supporting a legislation that will not effectively prevent access to gambling to prevent the 0.6 percent of wagering that goes on online, according to research.

A suggestion that poker machines may come under the jurisdiction of the legislation because operators employ online technology to maintain linked jackpots has been rejected by the Government, who have announced that this use of the technology would be permitted.

The changes have only served to make opponents of the Bill more unsatisfied with the Government's intentions. "We can't help feeling that the government is playing on people's ignorance and to some extent fear of technology to win political points," said Coroneos. That is not good leadership -- it is predatory leadership. As custodians of the technology, we feel duty bound to report the real situation."

Coroneos, who on Friday released the findings of an IIA-commissioned study by Gartner that focussed on the filtering technologies that would need to be employed should the Government's legislation be adopted, said that the proposal to adopt compulsory filtering measures would have severe unintended consequences with negligible public benefit to show for it.