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Dutch parliament votes against internet filter

Today, the Dutch parliament voted against the introduction of an internet filter. Such a filter is ineffective and, above all, undermines the trust in our digital infrastructure. Unsurprisingly, Bits of Freedom is pleased with the outcome of the voting.

The internet filter was proposed as part of new legislation to regulate online gambling in the Netherlands. Currently, online gambling is prohibited altogether. Of course this doesn’t deter people from placing bets on shady websites. The proposed law not only legalizes online gambling, but considerably expands the Dutch Gambling Authority’s enforcement powers.

The internet filter works by manipulating certain types of traffic, most notably DNS which is used for hostname to IP-address translation. Had the law been approved without change, internet providers would be forced by the government to render illegal gambling sites unreachable by interfering with users’ traffic, a practice we deem completely undesirable of others and normally label as criminal.

In a debate in parliament last week, the Dutch undersecretary of the Ministry of Security and Justice recognized the fact that such a filter can be circumvented fairly easily. He also acknowledged the risk of function creep: a measure introduced for one particular goal will over time see an array of other applications. We know, for example, that the representatives of the entertainment industry, who have nothing to do with gambling, lobbied in favour of the filter. The government recognizes all of these problems and did not object to the removal of the internet filter from the list of powers of the Gambling Authority, as proposed by the social-liberals of D66.

D66 argued that the government should refrain from interfering with the core and key protocols of the internet. Users should be able to trust the network and were that trust to be undercut, it would impede on users’ freedoms. The liberals of VVD also supported the removal of the internet filter from the law, considering the limited effectiveness. The Dutch Gambling Authority still has quite a few other powers to intervene when necessary, such as taking down illegal gambling sites altogether and blocking financial transactions. D66’s amendment also gained support from the social democrats of the PvdA, the second member of the ruling coalition. Its member of parliament said in an op-ed that “North Korean measures, such as internet filters, do not solve the problems surrounding gambling.”

Bits of Freedom is pleased with the outcome of the voting. A reliable internet is not only of great importance to innovation and economic growth, but essential for the protection of our freedoms.

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