Digital Rights Groups Argue For Domain Owners Free Speech Rights

online poker tableThe Electronic Frontier Foundation and other digital rights groups are asking a Kentucky appeals court to overturn a judge's recent decision allowing the state to seize domain names of online gambling sites.

In a friend-of-the-court brief filed this week, the groups argue that the judge's ruling violates the domain owners' freedom of speech rights under the first amendment.

"Under the court's theory, Kentucky would be able to seize any domain name, from anywhere in the world, that pointed to a website that Kentucky deemed to violate a local law," the groups wrote. The Center for Democracy and Technology and the ACLU joined the Electronic Frontier Foundation in the filing.

Kentucky state court judge Thomas Wingate of Franklin Circuit ruled last month that Kentucky could seize domain names of 141 gambling sites, unless those sites blocked Kentucky residents from accessing them. The Interactive Gaming Council and Viscbingo.com filed an appeal.

Kentucky moved to seize the names in August, when a private law firm acting for the state's Justice and Public Safety Cabinet filed a sealed motion asking to confiscate domain names of 141 sites, including AbsolutePoker.com, PokerStars.com and UltimateBet.com.

Shortly afterwards, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear issued a statement that online gambling poses a threat to horseracing, which he called "Kentucky's signature industry." Placing online bets is not illegal in Kentucky, but promoting gambling is a crime in the state.

The digital rights groups argue that confiscating the domain names blocks global access to material that's legal in much of the world, even if it's arguably unlawful in Kentucky. They say that ruling violates the First Amendment rights of the Web sites as well as of Web users, who would be deprived of access to lawful content.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation and other groups also point out that geographic filtering techniques are unreliable. For instance, IP anonymizers mask users' IP addresses, making it "trivially easy" for Kentucky residents to get around geolocation filtering, the groups write.

Tags: gaming, legal, online
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