The Minnesota Star Tribune reports that Representative Pat Garofalo, a Republican from Farmington, introduced legislation Monday that would bar the Department of Public Safety from forcing Internet service providers (ISPs) to block access to 200 online gambling Internet gaming sites that state enforcement officials have targeted at random. The legislation is in response to a letter sent last week from the state Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division to 11 ISPs directing them to block the sites. There is no indication yet that any of the ISPs intend to act on the state's request, and ISPs have declined comment.
Garofalo's legislation would halt the action by the state and make it conditional on legislative approval.
"The Department of Public Safety has to have better things to do with their time than to go after a college kid in his dorm room or some guy sitting in his basement spending a couple of hours playing online poker," Garofalo told the newspaper. "Demanding that a private-sector Internet service provider block access to websites is not a proper function of our state government."
The director of the Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division, John Willems said he would have to hold off reacting to the bill until he has consulted with the commissioner's office for the Department of Public Safety.
Willems said: "We have not heard from the ISPs apart from Dish TV, which has told me that they work with a third-party company to provide Internet access to their customers who need it."
Garofalo remained critical of the enforcement official's activities: "I'm certainly not condoning online gambling," he said. "But I have serious concerns about government banning access to web sites. This is the kind of thing they do in communist China, not the United States of America.
"Besides, how about we focus on balancing the state's $6.4 billion budget deficit and not harassing Minnesotans anymore than Democrat legislative leaders are already trying to do?"
The banning attempt is attracting growing criticism, an example being the online publication Broadband which described the enforcement initiative as "unlikely to succeed" given that it is technically almost impossible and legally dubious.
"The state wants to force ISPs to adhere to inapplicable "common carrier" laws, despite the fact that modern ISPs have been classified as "information services" and deregulated," an editorial observed. It was followed by wide comment from readers generally critical of the state's banning attempt.
"This is as tedious and stupid as the country of Australia and the Mormons in Utah attempting to filter the Internet," wrote one contributor. "Maybe Minnesota needs to secede from the Union and form their own country with Utah and Texas? Then all the fundie religious fanatics and other nutjobs can all live together in one big, happy, filtered existence without being bothered by reality"
Another responded: "It's not "fundie religious fanatics" behind this - it's a state bureaucrat trying to protect legal Indian casinos and state lottery proceeds."
"Minnesota has got bigger freaking problems to worry about [than] gambling online, wrote another, listing what he saw as more immediate priorities. "Funny thing is nobody wants to back a bill to make gambling outside of Indian Casinos."
The enforcement officials did not escape criticism either - one correspondent wrote: "It was the (unelected) head of Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement that came up with this website blocking nonsense. Why can't the moron lawmakers realize that....you can not legislate morality!"
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