Rep. Garofalo and iMEGA Challenge Minnesota Censorship Attempt

It took one week for the challenges to begin after the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) attempted to block access for its residents to nearly 200 online gambling sites. The move seemed to come without provocation from the DPS’ Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division (AGED), and the outrage from the internet rights and gaming communities came swiftly and with the threat of action. One week later, the challenges have begun.

The most severe and immediate action against the censorship attempt came from Minnesota State Representative Pat Garofalo. On Monday, May 4, he introduced legislation to bar the DPS from forcing internet service providers to comply with the order – any order – to block access to internet gambling websites. The bill would stop AGED from its current action and require any similar future actions from pursuing such drastic efforts without prior legislative approval.

“Demanding that a private-sector internet service provide block access to websites is not a proper function of our state government,” said Garofalo. “The Department of Public Safety has to have better things to do with their time than to go after a college kid in his dorm room or some guy sitting in his basement spending a couple of hours playing online poker.” He went on to say that he in no way means to condone online gambling, but he does not feel that the government should ban access to certain websites. “This is the kind of thing they do in communist China, not the United States of America,” he added.

The following day, May 5, the Interactive Media Entertainment & Gaming Association (iMEGA) set in motion several steps to stop the AGED attempts at blocking online gaming websites from the computers and phones of Minnesota residents.

First, a bold move involved letters sent from iMEGA to the 11 regional and national telephone and internet providers named in the original AGED action. The essence of the message was that the originally cited 1961 Federal Wire Act was a federal law and not applicable in this case and that the list of online gambling sites was unreliable. Several of the websites on the list of nearly 200 were defunct, and others had been withdrawn from the U.S. market for some time and already block U.S. customers from accessing the sites.

The iMEGA letter read, in part: “Because website operators are not subscribers of yours, have no contracts with you and are not provided facilities by you, you should be aware that the MN DPS is attempting to mislead (either intentionally or inadvertently) you into believing that you are bound by federal law to do what the MN DPS asks.”

Second, on May 6, iMEGA filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Minneapolis against AGED director John Willems. The motion asked the court to prevent the AGED order from being enforced with regard to the 11 telecommunications companies due to its lack of authority to do so. The suit also cited a violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution in that free speech rights were being infringed upon by the actions put forth by AGED.

iMEGA chairman Joe Brennan Jr. noted, “It’s our hope that Minnesota will recognize their error and drop their blocking order. Censoring internet access for Minnesota residents would establish a troubling precedent of government intrusion into the online world, and we just can’t allow that to happen.”

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