Will Australia Implement its Own Great Firewall to Rival China’s?

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The Great Firewall is China’s way of regulating Internet use and protecting its citizens.

Over the years, it has evolved to become a sophisticated and complicated piece of technology.

The security measures that it incorporates are getting stronger as they are reinforced with technological developments such as Artificial Technology (AI).

It exists because China is interested in connecting economically to the external world, but wants to keep Western ideologies away from its residents.

Control and censorship = Great Firewall of China

Although the Great Firewall prevents Chinese residents from gaining access to online gambling sites, enterprising gamblers have found ways of climbing over it.

As every gambling expert and avid gambler knows, banning online gambling is never a good idea.

It leads to the development of an unregulated gambling industry and absolutely no protection for the gambler.

A recent amendment to the Interactive Gambling Act (IGA) made online poker and online casino games illegal in Australia.

While online sports betting, online horse betting, and online lotteries continue to be legal, operators cannot offer online casino games and online poker services to Australian residents.

The country has plans of blocking offshore online casinos and online poker rooms so that its residents cannot access them.

At the moment new no deposit casinos keep popping up, with a complete disregard for the potential implementation of Australia’s version of the Great Firewall of China.

Basic Understanding of Geo Blocking or IP/ISP Blocking

You know that you have been geo blocked if you are unable to purchase something online or create an account at an online gambling site licensed in an offshore jurisdiction.

Sometimes, you will see an access denied message on the website.

Businesses, digital platforms, and services use geo-blocking to prevent residents of certain countries or jurisdictions from accessing their services or products.

They use advanced technology to identify the IP address of each user and find out the user’s location.

Usually, the IP address contains the device number, ISP, and the country of residence.

Australia’s Proposed Internet Filtering Project

Australia is currently weighing the pros and cons of launching an Internet blocking scheme. All Internet service providers (ISPs) who participate in this project would be required to block offshore online gambling sites identified by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

The latest amendment to the Interactive Gambling Act makes it illegal for online gambling sites to offer their services to Australian residents.

The government’s proposed Internet blocking scheme is meant to be an extra measure to prevent residents from accessing offshore online casinos and online poker rooms.

Right now, selected stakeholders in the online gambling and communications industry have received a consultation paper from the government and one of the stakeholders who have submitted a response is the Communications Alliance (CA), which has desired to know how the government will determine participating ISPs and whether users of mobile Internet will be affected by the filtering scheme.

Initially, only online wagering sites will be targeted and not online casinos and online poker rooms although the amendment to the Interactive Gambling Act forbids the use of these.

ISPs would not be forced to implement the scheme, but the government hopes that ISPs who voluntarily participate in the scheme would block access for at least three-quarters of the Internet users in Australia.

Flaws in the Proposed Scheme

The above-mentioned CA submission has pointed out several flaws in the proposed scheme:

  • All ISPs would be not technically equipped to display pop-ups alerting users that the website has been blocked.

  • Participating ISPs would find it difficult to bear the costs associated with blocking websites.

  • The Internet filtering scheme may affect legal content online, putting Australian consumers at a disadvantage.

  • Determined gamblers will find various ways to access forbidden online gambling sites despite the government’s best attempts to prevent them, as it has already happened in China and other countries.

  • Avid Australian gamblers will continue to user a variety of tested and proven methods such as Tor browsers and networks, HTTPS access, remote desktop clients, SSH tunnels, anonymous proxies, VPNs, and others to access prohibited online gambling sites.

How the Copyright Act Can Help

In its submission, the CA has raised concerns that the ISPs will find it difficult to bear the costs of blocking websites.

It has proposed that the government reimburse these costs along with additional costs that participating ISPs will have to incur while implementing the proposed filtering scheme.

It also suggests that the government use the reimbursement procedure and structure, which the Copyright Act of 1968 establishes.

Cases associated with the Copyright Act have shown that the costs of blocking websites that infringe copyright are around $50 for each block.

Moreover, certain amendments to the Copyright Act have been proposed to include provisions to order search engines to block search results on copyright infringement and to permit online search engines and ISPs to include extra URLs, domain names, search results, and IP addresses in a blocking injunction that does not require any approval from the court.

If Australia implements amendments to the Copyright Act and the proposed Internet filtering scheme, Australia facing online gambling operators will feel the pinch along with providers of online search engine services and ISPs.

Also, the scheme will have to undergo a procedure of public consultation before it can be implemented.

Further, it would require amendments to the existing IGA, and this would take time as amendments have to be proposed and passed.

Does Internet Filtering Serve the Purpose?

Australia wants to protect its players from offshore online gambling operators, many of which operate without a proper gambling license. It is not the first country to take such an approach.

Other countries, such as Belgium, China, France, and Norway, have taken similar measures.

But none of these countries could succeed in effectively keeping gamblers away from online gambling sites.

They could just succeed in making it very difficult for gamblers to access online gambling sites.

They also succeeded in driving away from the market highly reputed, licensed, and well-regulated online gambling businesses.

And all the time, consumers remain unprotected from unscrupulous operators who offer them their services only to separate them from their hard-earned money.

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