German Regulator Irks Internet Firms With Call For Voluntary Website Blocking

July 22, 2022
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A call by the new Germany-wide gambling regulator for internet service providers (ISPs) to voluntarily block unlicensed gambling sites is stirring controversy among the ISPs and some legislators.

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A call by the new Germany-wide gambling regulator for internet service providers (ISPs) to voluntarily block unlicensed gambling sites is stirring controversy among the ISPs and some legislators.

If telecommunications providers do not follow this “cooperative approach” or comply with any subsequent orders, they could end up with fines and fees of up to €500,000, according to the Joint Gambling Authority of the Federal States (GGL).

The GGL said it would not ask ISPs to block the websites “on demand”, but the provider would be supplied with the legal basis for the request, as well as steps taken by the regulator against the unlicensed website and options for the provider to take action.

“Internet service providers are of course free to reject this offer and only act within the framework of a formal administrative procedure,” the regulator said. “This administrative act can be subject to judicial review.”

Some Bundestag members were critical of the action, which was sent in a letter to ISPs and published by Netzpolitik.org, an organisation which advocates for what it calls “digital freedom rights”.

Tabea Rößner of the Green party said that although website blocking was “fundamentally critical” as a tool to fight unlicensed gambling, it was “intended as a last resort”, according to Netzpolitik.

Maximilian Funke-Kaiser of the Free Democrats warned of the "massive restrictions on fundamental rights" caused by network blocking and said enforcement should be about “always choosing the most effective, mildest means”, Netzpolitik said.

The advocacy organisation quoted several internet providers as saying they would respectfully decline the “offer of cooperation” and “analyse very carefully whether and under what conditions we have to block here".

Another ISP said it would only set up blocks "if there is a specific, legally valid order for this".

The new regulator, which launched operations on July 1, is wasting no time trying to make an impact on the German gambling regime.

Earlier this month it lent some clarity to online slots and poker licensing, saying that companies that have not applied for licences would be targeted first for enforcement, sidestepping a harsher message from the Gambling Committee.

Only three applicants for online slots and poker licences, of more than 60, have so far been granted licences, although the application period opened on July 1, 2021.

In an FAQ, the GGL said its actions balance digital freedom rights against its mission to protect minors and the vulnerable against gambling addiction and game manipulation, and they meet “proportionality requirements”.

The regulator said it is looking to develop a “pragmatic” solution in conjunction with the service providers and ensure technical implementation comes with the “least possible effort” for the ISPs.

A GGL spokeswoman referred questions to the FAQ.

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