Should the Swedish government institute ISP blocks on Internet gambling websites?

It didn't work in Italy, and it is creating major waves of protest in Australia at present - the prospect of governments forcing Internet Service Providers to impose blocks censoring online gambling websites.

Sweden is the latest country to consider the censorship option, reports The Stockholm News this weekend. The newspaper reveals that a government report suggesting the blocks is at present undergoing a public consultative process...and picking up plenty of flak as it does so.

With Wednesday April 1st as the deadline, the criticism is likely to escalate, the newspaper reports. By then, regional authorities, local governments, relevant organisations and private interests will have all expressed views on how Internet gambling should be regulated going forward in a country already notorious for its state-sponsored gambling monopolistic system.

The main objections to the proposal are that it constitutes blatant censorship and is offensive to the democratic principle of freedom of speech.

The proposal is one of many in the government report on the future of Swedish gambling, and suggests that a Swedish government agency should have sole responsibility to decide what is and is not acceptable in terms of Internet content, and issue orders for ISPs to block specific websites.

It is not at this stage known if this alternative is to be operated under the cloak of secrecy as has been the recent case in Australia and its Australian Media and Communications Authority trials (see previous InfoPowa reports).

Major ISPs such as Bahnhof have already condemned the proposal as rank censorship, and Jon Karlung of the Svensha Dagbladet newspaper has editorially posed the question: "Is it really a good idea for the Swedish state to decide to what Internet destinations its citizens may have access?"

In practice, several Swedish ISPs voluntarily block internet sites that depict child pornography, but there is no state filtering, and Karlung believes this is an important issue. Forcing ISPs to block Internet content would be the first state censorship in history, he points out.

Government agencies are also critical of the proposal. The Swedish Post and Telecommunications Agency, the High Courts and the Agency for Administrative development have issues concerning the blocking of Internet access. Attention is drawn in recent responses to the fact that it is not presently illegal to visit the Internet sites of foreign gambling companies, therefore why should legal accessibility be prevented by the government?

The High Courts in the counties of Skåne and Blekinge have characterised the proposal as “disproportional” and point to the risk that one kind of state filtering of Internet access can lead to an unwelcome expansion of state censorship authority to other industries or interests on the Web.

“What really must be taken into account is that there are no similar regulations in any other area of Swedish law”, the courts write in their response to the government report.

In similar vein, the Agency for Administrative Development opined that the proposal will mean “a ban for Swedish citizens to use parts of the Internet” and recommended wider and deeper discussion on the possible consequences of the proposal.

The Ministry of Finance, which commissioned the report, has declined to make any comments until the consultative phase has been completed, but Finance Minister Anders Borg is on prior record as saying that blocking Internet access may be going "...a little bit too far” and to have questioned the proportionality of the concept.

On the other side of the discussion, Social Democratic spokesperson Lars Wegendal has said that his party supports the idea of a state filter on foreign online gambling sites.

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