In the recent months we have covered stories about growing trend of countries choosing data retention and/or internet site blocking enforced by political reform. The recent spike in such political agenda around the world has been primarily motivated by copyright or national security policies. Today we look at another country considering venturing into the internet censorship arena, motivated by completely different set of concerns- gambling reform. Case study: Lithuania.
On Tuesday (May 12th, 2015) Lithuanian Gambling Oversight Agency (LGOA) presented the recommendation to the parliament, asking for the right to block websites they deem illegal, stating they unfairly compete with local license holders. The proposed policy goes further stating “Gambling Oversight Agency should have the right to give direct orders to Internet Service Providers(ISPs) to remove and block access to information they deem illegal.” The proposal was accepted as stated by three committees reviewing the proposal, moving forward to parliamentary approval.
This comes as a shock, considering Lithuania is hailed as one of the trailblazers in internet innovation: providing the fastest internet and most widely available public internet wifi network – attracting a lot of foreign investment because of it.
Online gambling in Lithuania was not monetized and the reform was necessary to address the changing landscape of Gambling and growing popularity of Online Betting.
LGOA insists on calling all foreign betting sites illegal, because they do not have an operator licence to offer services in Lithuania and do not pay taxes for the revenue generated by Lithuanian Users.
Ads by the ‘illegal’ operators are blocked on Lithuanian websites.
Lithuanian operators end up registering their betting Websites abroad to avoid paying LGOA fees
Proposal to block ‘illegal betting operators’ online is argued to be result of losses in revenue
Strong lobby groups want exclusive operating rights in Lithuania.
In order to create a mechanism that blocks certain websites – it does just that – creates a mechanism to block and censor online content. Who is to say that another agency won’t make a proposal to block other websites they deem inappropriate if the infrastructure to do so will exist.
The simple website blocking (proposed to be implemented and paid for by ISPs) can be bypassed by connecting via a VPN service. If a more advanced online censorship mechanism is planned (aka the great firewall of Lithuania) – it will be very expensive. Forcing the question – who will pay for the program?
Internet Freedom can achieve two things: it can further Lithuanian aim at pioneering internet access and turn into a profitable venture.
If the gambling agency is not debating the betting as a moral issue, it is probably an indicator the activity will stick around as demand persists. Websites the agency intends to block, could pay for ad revenue instead, thus financially supporting current Lithuanian operators and news agencies, in turn supporting the local economy.
Strengthening competitive advantage of local operators and creating incentives to register websites in Lithuania might prove better for local economy than expensive online censorship technology.