Quebec Blocks Unlicensed Gambling Sites

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Quebec is moving towards a plan that will order Internet providers to block gambling websites that are unlicensed, this is an initiative that some say could set a dangerous precedent for web censorship.

Finance Minister of Quebec, Carlos Leitao, has tabled legislation to implement the provincial budget announced in March, and included amendments to Quebec’s Consumer Protection Act where it directed Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to block access to a list of unauthorized gambling sites which was to be drawn up by Loto-Québec and that failure to comply could result in a fine of up to $100,000 and double that for subsequent offences.

This move is aimed at directing online gambling revenues towards the government’s own website, Espacejeux. The government stated in March it expected to bring in an additional $13.5-million during 2016-17 and a further $27-million a year later.

Critics, however, say this scheme amounts to censorship, and it is technically unworkable plus that the province doesn’t have the authority to regulate the Internet in this manner.

The chairman of the Canadian chapter of the Internet Society, Timothy Denton said that it was censorship, that it will block access to legally available sites in the interests of enhancing a gambling monopoly,” the chapter is a group that advocates that the Internet remain open and free. He continued that a lot of countries had tried to do it, and he said that they cant be called liberal democracies.

In August Mr. Denton wrote to Mr. Leitao to protest the government’s plan, he argued that it would be costly for ISP’s to implement, and that the legal liabilities could drive smaller the ISPs out of business which could lead to raising Internet prices, he also stated that it would most likely contravene the federal government’s authority with regards to telecommunications. The minister has acknowledged that he had received the letter but has thus far not responded.

The chief legal and the regulatory officer for independent ISP, TekSavvy Solutions Inc, Bram Abramson said that they see a lot of reason why it should not stand, and that if it did stand it could have rep repercussions by setting a precedent.

TekSavvy has a number of customers in Quebec, and that it would be an expensive proposition to identify and block certain website addresses just for specific users. He continued that they would have to re-engineer their network that would basically segregate Quebec and then set up different servers specifically for their Quebec users. He continued that they would basically have to whole lot of stuff that will cost a significant amount of time and money on something that will be ineffective.

Mr Abramson also said that users would just simply change their computer settings so their ISP wont act as their DNS - domain name system, the DNS matches website names with the corresponding Internet protocol (IP) addresses and that helps direct traffic to the right location, therefore the blocking would be ineffective. In addition virtual private networks (VPNs), which is what many Canadian Internet customers make use of to watch content was not available in Canada, however, it could also be used to get around the blocking measures.

Spokeswoman for the Finance Minister, Nathalie Roberge, said that the Quebec government sees this as an extension of right to regulate gambling. She continued that these activities have evolved and they are now available online, and that the government has the jurisdiction to regulate gambling activities and that’s what they’re doing with this project.

She continued that the suggestions that blocking mechanisms would be futile were hypothetical and that they would be monitoring the situation.

Ms. Roberge didn’t have a time-line for when this proposed legislation would be passed into law, but she did say that it it would be studied and debated first.