The Association for Internet Progress (SPIR) rejects the Ministry of Finance’s claim that blocking access to websites is a required tool for regulation of gambling. SPIR draws attention to the fact that the new draft Gambling Act contains provisions enabling payment blocking, which is a regulatory method that is as effective as blocking access to websites, but one less susceptible to abuse.
The Association for Internet Progress is proposing that § 82 and related provisions of § 84 be deleted from the draft Gambling Act. These provisions permit blockage of access to certain websites. SPIR considers this to be exceptionally severe interference with the right to search for information. If, from the government’s perspective, existing tools are insufficient to address gambling, SPIR recommends the use of payment blocking, which is also included in the draft act.
The right to freely search for information is entrenched in Article 17 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms. Pursuant to case law of the Constitutional Court, such interference can be in compliance with the Constitution only if the given legitimate objective cannot be achieved in any other way, and if the restriction of basic rights is the least possible that is still sufficient to achieve the objective. According to SPIR, § 82 and related provisions of § 84 of the draft Act fail on both levels. This is because payment blocking alone represents effective prevention of participation in unauthorized games of chance that is directly stipulated by the Act (§ 83). If players are unable to bet at all, or if they will not be sure whether any potential winnings will be paid out, the Act’s objective will have been achieved even without internet blocking.
If in some cases internet becomes truly necessary, legislation would have to be much more specific than the current draft, and would have to provide sufficient guarantees against its abuse. For example, the current draft does not address the scope of what should be blocked: the entire website or even domain, or just selected pages, how blocking should be implemented, and it does not include an obligation for providers to restore access to blocked web pages if a Ministry of Finance decision is repealed.
SPIR is expressing its concern over the fact that authority to block unsuitable content has been assigned to one specific ministry in an entirely unsystematic manner. This creates a dangerous precedent for other state administration authorities to also strive for the right to block access to websites within their scope of authority.