Internet Censorship in the US? Or Just Law Enforcement?

It would seem that George Orwell might have been more prophetic than we perhaps gave him credit for. Currently, our televisions cannot watch us, but at the rate things are progressing, it is only a matter of time. After all, most PCs now come with web cams and certainly 90% of cell phones.

But what is becoming more alarming than the proliferation of closed circuit television cameras is the increasing trend of legalized Internet censorship. Now you might think I was talking about the crackdowns in China or perhaps North Korea and Iran, and there is no question that these governments, as part of their modus operandi do filter the content of the Internet that is available to their citizens. In this case, however, I am talking about democratic countries, like Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

I first started paying attention to this after an episode of Search Engine (Podcast #10, The Great Firewall of Australia). I have blogged about this issue in the United Kingdom and have been following what I thought was a ludicrous attempt by the Commonwealth of Kentucky to seize the domain names of those companies related to on-line gambling. That was until earlier this week.

Two things caught my attention. First was a resurgence of an earlier proposal in the UK to collect all emails, very reminiscent of the FBI’s Carnivore program. But what really got my attention was a series of letters from the State of Minnesota to ISPs, directing them under law to block access to these sites by customers located within Minnesota. These sites are systems to be used for the transmission of gambling information..

Now, I am not a lawyer, but it does not take a lawyer to see that that is a pretty broad catch bucket. Are we talking about blocking sites to online magazines that tell you where gambling is legal? Are we talking about sites that sell poker chips? Are we talking about the gaming available on cruises to the Caribbean?

Clearly the intent is on-line gambling, but that is not what the words say. The ramification is much broader and has much deeper consequences. For example, what is to prevent a state from issuing this sort of letter blocking access any other topic that might be illegal in that state? I have broached this before when talking about the Pirate Bay decision. While I can understand the State’s position, at what point does this become a violation of free speech – at least from the prospective of the Constitution of the United States.

These trends, misguided in my mind, to use technology to prevent access to other technology, never work the way they are intended. What bothers me more than these letters being issued is that someone thinks these sorts of measures are necessary and right.


David Lane, KG4GIY is a member of Linux Journal's Editorial Advisory Panel and the Control Op for Linux Journal's Virtual Ham Shack


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Would never happen under Gov. Jesse Ventura

Anonymous's picture

Whatever else you may think of him, when Jesse Ventura was the Minnesota Governor, this would never have been allowed to stand. Furthermore, this "John Williams" in the Minnesota Dept. of Public Slavery would've had more than his backside handed to him. This action totally flies in the face of the 1st Amendment, and I hope the EFF and/or ACLU take the State of Minnesota to the cleaners over it.

*This* is why the Framers wrote the Second Amendment--to protect the other nine. No, I'm not advocating violence, so hear me out. After America's successful Revolution against my country of origin (yes, I'm originally British), George Mason, the Father of the Bill of Rights, famously said, "to disarm the people is the best and most effectual way to enslave them." Virtually all other Framers--Washington, Hamilton, Jefferson, Patrick Henry, Samuel Adams, etc., agreed wholeheartedly. It is our *final* defence against overreaching governments like what Minnesota is doing here.

What's next, banning Wikipedia for having an article on gambling? Or perhaps banning Linux Journal for this very article?

Wouldn't it be futile to

Anonymous's picture

Wouldn't it be futile to block those site?
I mean... anyone can setup a proxy through some open proxy server.
I don't live in US. Where I live gambling is illegal, but not a single action is being done
against on-line gambling.
I don't think that any democratic government should tell its citizens what's moral
and what's immoral. Democracy, as it is implemented nowadays is nothing, but a government
of representatives of the people. And as such, those representatives, imho, should focus
on representing those who voted for them, rather than on mentoring them.
It's petty, but in most countries, it doesn't seem to work that way.

your tv online

ann's picture

Somewhere, Patrick Henry is

Patrick-Henry's-Ghost's picture

Somewhere, Patrick Henry is rolling over in his grave. When the Government decides that the freedom of the people is irrelevant next to it's own needs, the time has come for the people to defy the government.

Anywhere you care to look the freedoms and beliefs were taught as children that were worth defending and killing for*, are being trampled upon by a government bent on totalitarian control of it's populace via unsupported unconstitutional fraudulent laws enacted by corrupted officials in the nation's capitol, New Sodom, AKA Washington D.C., and no, I'm not one of the churchy folks or extremist militants, I advocate that no one should pay any federal taxes, one, it's not legal any way, and two, why give a dollar to someone who's going to borrow two and ask you to pay for their inability to manage money, it's criminal. EVERYONE should File EXEMPT and let the government swallow that message, trust me, it'll work better than voting ever could.

The Government has no business deciding what I or anyone else is "allowed" to see on the internet, BTW the RIAA/MPAA may as well hang themselves by their own petard, who're they kidding?
The Pirate Bay is one of the foremost defenders of liberty and freedom, not the lawyers, remember the old joke, what do you call five hundred lawyers at the bottom of the ocean....a good start, add in corrupted officials, unnecessary legislation derived solely for the purpose of generating income for the state and it's dependents ("civil servants"), and you're well on your way to a lean, clean governing machine, and for good measure toss in the IRS and the FED.

If gambling is illegal in

ke6seh-asmiller's picture

If gambling is illegal in the United States, then it is illegal FROM the United States through the Internet to any other location. That is the law.

While I agree with the writer that casting such a broad net is probably a violation of our Constitutional protections against illegal search and siezure, due process, and freedom of speech, THAT is the threat to our freedom -- not our governments taking legal action against illegal activities conducted through wire media.

If you are going to speak out against our governments and The Constitution, it would do you well to do so from an educated standpoint -- all this uneducated touchy feely drivel means less than nothing.

Most of all, if you want to Change The Law, you have to get involved, and not just sit at your keyboard an whine.

Get educated. Get involved. But most of all, VOTE!

There are no borders on the Internet

David Lane's picture

While in the old days, your argument would be viable, the problem is that there are no borders on the Internet. Traffic travels everywhere from everywhere to everywhere. A large number of these gambling sites are based (as a business) in the Caribbean islands but their servers are hosted in Canada and in many cases the traffic between Canada and the Caribbean islands travels through the United States. At what point is it illegal?

This is very much akin to banning books. Just because Catcher in the Rye for example is banned in State A, it does not prevent it from being imported from State B. Yes, it is harder to spread the word when you have to get it a single copy at a time, but what Gutenberg's press did for books, the Internet has done for information, good or bad, and arbitrary things, like borders, are a lot harder to enforce, and in fact, as I have state before, while gambling is illegal, what they are doing is setting a dangerous precedent to prevent access to sites simply because Topic A is illegal in that state.

That is the danger. The sin of gambling just happens to be the spear point.

David Lane, KG4GIY is a member of Linux Journal's Editorial Advisory Panel and the Control Op for Linux Journal's Virtual Ham Shack


Anonymous's picture

Nunya. Beeswax. Da'Man needs to stop messin' wiff my munny. Put a Cap in dat foo.

True, so true. If i find a

Anonymous's picture

True, so true. If i find a tick on my dog, I kill it, why should government be any different? The real reason that state has an issue with online gambling is they want to legislate themselves a slice of the pie. All leeches should be killed.

No freedom

Tipster's picture

This absolutely is a threat to our freedoms and we've had the government getting more bold all the time, trampling on the Constitution.

I actually remember reading

Myshkin's picture

I actually remember reading years ago about there being lenses inside tv screens, ostensibly for self-adjusting to lighting levels. There have also been stories fairly recently in the mainstream media about cable companies being able to view people.

Perhaps the Telescreen is already here.


Marvin's picture

Great article but not so great news.....

Just Terrible!

Anonymous's picture

The first step is getting informed. Believe it or not, the mainstream media spells out exactly what is going on. Our Constitution is THE only thing that makes America unique. It is slowly being eroded layer by layer until we are left with nothing. Read the facts, read the news.

Some more updates on Linux

lily kudrow's picture

Great article. I think this is a threat to freedom.
A good read on about some updates on linux:

The casino list

dom's picture

I saw the list of online gambling places they are trying to block. It's funny, they must have pulled it off some badly updated affiliate site.

It contains lots of casinos that don't allow US citizens to play, a good number that went out of business , and it omits almost all the ones that do face the US.

Someone didn't have an hour to do some homework.

I am from Minnesota and my

TFM's picture

I am from Minnesota and my best friend is a pretty successful online poker player. He is irate about this for obvious reasons. I would be more angry but is there anything that can really be done about it? I'm sad to say that at the age of 24 I have no faith in making a change in the government.

To the poster who made "um. there is no UNited" - He is basically correct if not for a lack of grammar and spelling. The ISPs and government are owned by the same people. Dance proles dance


Anonymous's picture

you shouldnt post things about your friend, gasp I might think he owns a site or 2.

Yep, so far what have we learned?


Do they live here is USA? I duno.


Jimmy Jones's picture

Good stuff dude, most impressive!


um. there is no UNited

Anonymous's picture

um. there is no UNited states no more or america outside the working class. the government commited treason along time ago and for circles of wealth....wealth dictates freedom today...not a country.

as well we are not a democracy in america anymore. we are communistic mix with social gender. can write all books you want or learn in schools roundabouts to old skool everday even in roman times...same situation same reasoning..same fall of man.

only good you will find today is in proverty. period

dude you real should lay off

A SOBER person's picture

dude you real should lay off the drugs before you try to give birth to a thought.

Part of the problem is

Anonymous's picture

Part of the problem is people think we do or used to have a democracy. The USA was in no way shape or form setup to be run as a democracy, we are a constitutional republic which is the exact opposite of a democracy.

This absolutely is a threat

Prescott Linux's picture

This absolutely is a threat to our freedoms and we've had the government getting more bold all the time, trampling on the Constitution.

Gambling via telephone?

Bert Rapp's picture

This makes me wonder if citizens of these states are prevented from calling bookies that operate in other states? Either way I'm glad Linux Journal is writing articles like this. It seems the Constitution and our rights are being eroded more and more these days and the more this erosion is exposed the more likely it will be put into check.

Thank you for this article.

Nail --> Head

Justin Ryan's picture

What is to prevent a state from issuing this sort of letter blocking access any other topic that might be illegal in that state?

You hit the nail on the head, as well as answered your own question, about two lines later. The U.S. Constitution prevents them from doing so. Unlike many other regimes undertaking internet censorship, the U.S. has an established, written, and for-all-intents-and-purposes immutable constitution that clearly lays out what government may and may not do, and a fairly simple mechanism to see that they do as they're supposed to. It doesn't take years of protests, or replacing the government, or a revolution: it takes a plaintiff, a petition, and a federal judge who knows how to sign his own name.

If what these states are doing is unconstitutional, and I believe it is, then all that requires to be done is for someone with standing (that is, someone being affected by the actions) to file a petition with the U.S. District Court for their district, alleging that the activities are unconstitutional, and requesting that the Court enjoin the state(s) from continuing. My guess is that if it is taken up in the courts, the argument will be less about free speech and more about regulation of trade.

While it might be argued that online casinos are advocating for gambling and that is protected speech, what the states appear to be attempting is to regulate online gaming, not prevent its promotion. (That is to say, if you want to encourage people to undertake legal gambling, presumably outside the state, then the government has no interest in preventing you from doing so.) Unlike casinos, which by definition must operate in one state or another (even if the operator is a chain based in a different state), online gaming has no easily defined place of operation. It can be argued that the gambling takes place in the state where the customer accesses the site, it can be argued that it takes place in the state where the company's servers are located, and it can be argued that it takes place in the state where the company undertakes its operations. In reality, it is probably all three, but insomuch as a transaction of this nature requires a meeting of the minds to exchange consideration, it at a minimum takes place in both the state where the customer is located and the state where the company is located. As the whole point behind the exercise is that it is illegal to operate a casino, online or otherwise, in these states, then by definition there must be at least two states involved. Business that takes place across state lines is referred to as interstate commerce, and the Constitution specifically prohibits the states from regulating it — it is the exclusive purview of Congress, and by extension, the federal government.

My expectation is that if and when the matter arises in federal court, the argument will be that these states are attempting to regulate interstate commerce in violation of the commerce clause. The courts have historically been extremely broad in their application of the commerce clause, in some cases even allowing the regulation of non-commercial activities undertaken by private individuals in a single state. I suspect that once the issue is raised, the courts will quickly determine that these states have no power to regulate business that originates in another state, even if it is accessed within the state, and will enjoin them from further regulation. The larger matter of internet censorship probably won't end there — it is human nature to see how far the boundaries can be pushed — but this specific example of it, I think, will disappear quite quickly.

Justin Ryan is a Contributing Editor for Linux Journal.

It goes beyond censorship

JAPrufrock's picture

The internet is the last true bastion of democracy. We, as citizens of the world, should do everything in our power to protect the internet against any government intervention and control, including censorship. It's no coincidence that China, one of the least democratic countries in the world, has almost complete control over internet use by its citizens.