The interests at stake
Large non-Dutch companies are eager to make (legal) on-line gambling available in the Netherlands and various firms already active on the Dutch market are also interested in starting on-line services. This legalisation of on-line gambling also has benefits for the government, because the taxes would provide an additional revenue source. However, there are challenges as well, particularly those surrounding the dangers of gambling addiction. So what is the best way to proceed? The current draft legislation would require legal providers to pursue responsible policies, and there would have to be mechanisms for acting against illegal providers. All things considered, on-line gambling is a complex, high-stakes topic. Consequently, the various interested parties have been debating and lobbying in connection with new legislation for some time.
Although the subject is not directly relevant to our day-to-day activities, SIDN has become involved with the latest version of the bill, because, as originally drafted, it would have obliged legal providers to operate under a .nl domain name. Naturally, we have no objection to legal providers offering their products to the Dutch market using .nl domains. However, we believe that a statutory obligation to use a .nl name, with a view to preventing illegal services being offered to the Dutch market, would send the wrong signal. The strategy would not necessarily be completely effective and could therefore give a false sense of security, with the attendant risks. We are therefore pleased to see that, partly in response to our feedback, the requirement to use a .nl domain name has been dropped from the bill now under consideration.
Will the law introduce internet blocks?
Only one passage of the bill as it is now framed gives us cause for concern. That is Section 34n, which provides for the imposition of internet blocks as the ultimate means of tackling illegal gambling sites. Such blocks are now used in various countries, including Belgium. However, there has been criticism of filtering in those countries, and it is a sensitive subject in the Netherlands too. It will be recalled that the controversial blocking of The Pirate Bay ultimately had to be reversed. There are a number of good reasons for taking an extremely cautious line where the blocking of internet access is concerned.
- First, blocks have very little effect. Experience in the Netherlands and other countries suggests that blocks are easily circumvented.
- Second, ISPs are drawn into a problem that is not really theirs. Impeding internet traffic is in most cases the antithesis of their normal role and therefore 'goes against the grain'. It also involves a variety of additional tasks and expenses.
- Finally, there is a risk of mistakes being made or of 'collateral damage', the consequences of which may be merely annoying, but are potentially more serious. For example, Belgium's blacklist includes the now disused domain name maaslandgames.be. Anyone who might unsuspectingly register that name for an entirely legitimate purpose is likely to take a dim view of the fact that their site attracts very little traffic from Belgium.
In addition to the practical objections outlined above, there is one more fundamental objection to the principle of blocking. The free movement of data is one of the main reasons for the internet's success. It has helped the internet to grow into a global medium for communication, information exchange, social interaction, cooperation and commerce. It has also been a crucial factor in the personal development of countless individuals and the collective development of many important communities. It is highly pertinent to ask what the repercussions of interfering with that success factor may be, particularly in the longer term. At the very least, an extremely cautious approach is in order.
SIDN explains its reservations during round table discussion
On Thursday 21 May, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Security and Justice held a public hearing, or round table discussion, on the bill to amend the Gambling Act, the Games of Chance Tax Act and certain other laws, in connection with the organisation of remote gambling (Parliamentary Document 33996). External experts and stakeholders were invited to attend in order to provide input on the various matters discussed.
Part of the session was reserved for consideration of the 'technical aspects' of the proposed provisions on blocking, and SIDN was invited to attend (along with the Transparency WG of ISOC Netherlands). In our answers to committee members' questions, we were able to set out our concerns and views regarding the bill (in Dutch).
We are pleased to have had the opportunity to influence developments and grateful for the positive feedback received both before and after our appearance. In our relations with the political community and with organisations such as ISOC-NL, DINL and others, we are working to achieve balanced, sensible and effective regulations that contribute to carefree digital living.