British broadband providers rebuff calls to act as online gambling police

The UK’s gambling regulator has asked the country’s big internet service providers to warn their customers of the illegality of unlicensed gambling websites – and the ISPs have refused, arguing that it’s up to the courts or Parliament to decide on such things.

It’s nice to see the ISPs push back against the censorship and policing role that many in the British government think they should maintain, particularly after they rolled over with barely a whimper on the issue of implementing opt-out porn filters. The UK government is already preparing to force ISPs to block access to so-called “extremist” content.

According to the Financial Times (subscription required), the Gambling Commission approached big ISPs including BT(s bt) and TalkTalk asking for the insertion of “splash” pages when a customer is trying to access an unlicensed gambling site, in order to warn the customer that the service is illegal. This is the same thing that happens if someone in the UK tries to access child pornography through the web.

The ISPs’ refusal echoes that of calls by the content rights industry, years back, to block access to the likes of The Pirate Bay. In that case, it took a High Court ruling – the infamous Newzbin case — to get the ball rolling. Which is only correct, as ISPs are not supposed to be stand-ins for the judicial system.

As a TalkTalk spokeswoman quoted by the FT said:

“We do not believe that it is for ISPs to decide what content customers should access. It is really important that there is either a proper legal framework when it comes to blocking access to sites, just like with copyright infringement, or that it is down to customer choice.”

There is certainly a gathering momentum in the UK behind efforts to enforce the offline law online in new ways, and one has to wonder what the British government and its regulators will ask to block or police next.