ISPs to block offshore gambling sites under new government scheme

ACMA to use powers under Telco Act

The government is forging ahead with a plan to have Internet service providers (ISPs) block their customers from accessing overseas-based gambling sites, which are banned under the Interactive Gambling Act 2001.

Computerworld reported in October 2018 that the government was assessing the feasibility of a new web-blocking scheme in response to both the 2018 Black Economy Taskforce Final Paper and the 2015 Review of Illegal Offshore Wagering. The Interactive Gambling Act has previously been largely unenforced.

Communications and cyber safety minister Paul Fletcher said today that the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) would implement the new measures through the use of Section 313(3) of the Telecommunications Act 1997.

Section 313 (3) confers a broad power on Commonwealth, state and territory authorities to compel cooperation from telcos in order to enforce “the criminal law and laws imposing pecuniary penalties” as well as assist “the enforcement of the criminal laws in force in a foreign country”, protect public revenue, and safeguard national security.

The power has been used for varied purposes including to address the spread of malware and block sites hosting child abuse material. The use of Section 313 by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) to tackle fraud led to some ISPs accidentally blocking unrelated sites.

“Illegal overseas gambling companies are preying on Australians by targeting them with misleading incentives. Consumers have no recourse to retrieve their money,” Fletcher said in a statement.

“Up to $400 million is spent annually by Australians on illegal gambling websites, accounting for around $100 million in lost tax revenue each year. Too often these offshore operators are defrauding Australians - and their websites typically provide very few – if any – harm minimisation controls.”

“While ACMA has a range of powers to protect Australians from illegal gambling services – including issuing formal warnings and seeking civil penalty orders – it can be difficult to take direct action against faceless companies with no legal presence on our shores,” the minister said.

Fletcher said that telco industry group Communications Alliance had supported the move.

“Working with ACMA, these additional measures give ISPs the ability to block illegal websites, protecting Australians and contributing to a safer online gambling environment,” the minister said.

The government said that Section 313 would be used by the ACMA when other forms of enforcement are not feasible.

“We have been targeting illegal gambling services we know are active in the Australian market through complaints received and monitoring,” ACMA chair Nerida O’Loughlin said. “But we expect that list of sites will grow as we investigate more.”

“The ability to have ISPs block illegal websites will be a valuable additional weapon in the ACMA’s arsenal in the fight against illegal online gambling,” the ACMA chair said.

The ACMA has released its guidelines on the use of Section 313, which require the ACMA chair, deputy chair, or a senior executive to sign off on the use of the power.