Israel could enact legislation in 2013 that would allow police to order internet service providers (ISPs) to block access to unauthorized online gambling websites without first obtaining a court order. The Justice Ministry issued draft legislation earlier this month that would allow an “authorized police officer” to order ISPs to block any site offering gambling or child pornography. The order would only apply for a limited time, but the duration could be extended following an ex parte hearing, at which the police could justify their request via the presentation of classified evidence that the site owner wouldn’t be allowed to see or hear. Any ISP receiving such an order would be allowed to voice objections, which the police would be required to ‘consider’ before wondering aloud whether the ISP owner had ever seen the inside of a prison cell.
The Justice Ministry drafted the legislation despite the fact that the country’s Supreme Court is still considering a government appeal of a lower court ruling in April that said ISPs were under no obligation to honor police orders of this nature. That court case began in 2010, after Israeli police began ordering ISPs to block access to international gambling sites such as Stan James and Victor Chandler. The pushback came not from the ISPs, but from the Israeli Internet Association (ISOC-IL), which challenged the practice over concerns that free speech rights were being trampled.
Fast forward to 2012 and once again it’s civil libertarians that are raising the hue and cry. Attorney Jonathan Klinger told Haaretz that the draft law “seeks to bring us down to the level of countries like Qatar, Pakistan, Iran, China and others. We have yet to see any country in the world that has censorship but doesn’t use it for political purposes.” Klinger protested the fact that “all the decisions would be made behind closed doors. The court could rely on classified evidence, and even accept inadmissible evidence; it could also decide not to show part of its decision to the victim. In no other area, even in security crimes, do I know of a situation in which the accused can’t receive the verdict.”
Attorney Dotan Baruch told GamblingCompliance that internet service providers weren’t likely to directly oppose the bill; rather, they would “seek to ensure they will not be sued for complying with the police order.” Baruch suggested the bill was likely to pass the Knesset sometime in the second half of 2013. While Israeli police continue to bust unlicensed domestic operators, the only legal online gambling options Israelis currently enjoy are sports betting via the Israel Sports Betting Board and lottery ticket sales via the state-run Mifal Hapayyis. A report earlier this month by economist Avichai Snir suggested the state could realize NIS 1.2b (US $322m) annually by regulating and taxing the full range of online gambling options offered by international sites.