Poland Reverses Plans to Create Centralized Online Blacklist

Red pushpin in map of Poland

Poland’s online regulatory overseers have reversed plans to create a massive blacklist to secretly block all sorts of allegedly illegal online offerings, though the country’s online-gambling blacklist will remain in effect.

Poland’s Ministry of Digitization, the country’s central agency for electronic and online communications, has reversed its previously announced intention of creating a centralized online blacklist to continually monitor and bar access to online offerings that appear to violate Polish law.

The ministry’s reversal occurred following a significant public outcry over aspects of the proposed expanded blacklist, which included a proposal to require Poland’s internet service providers (ISPs) to turn over data to the government regarding the attempts of Polish citizens to access sites deemed illegal. That triggered a groundswell of opposition to the proposal, led by Poland’s Panoptykon Foundation. That foundation, a champion of online privacy and digital rights, laid bare the secretive nature of the Ministry of Digitization’s proposal, which would have gathered data about alleged illegal sites from four separate sources, then subjectively added them to a collective blacklist without external review.

The Panoptykon Foundation’s exposé effectively forced the government to backtrack and to forego what government documents described as “a central register of internet domains used to offer goods and services contrary to the law.”

In backtracking, Poland’s Ministry of Digitization tried to minimize the importance and effect of the proposal, writing: “The register was to operate on a similar principle as the register already in operation based on the so-called gambling act. It was supposed to be a technical solution simplifying the verification process, and its aim was to minimize costs on the part of telecommunications entrepreneurs,” meaning the ISPs. Those ISPs, however, never asked for the blacklist to be created and generally supported the online-privacy defenders.

The ministry’s reversal notice also disavowed any censorship attempt, claiming this: “Any suggestions that the creation of a register would serve any form of internet censorship were, therefore, far-reaching over-interpretation and abuse.”

Online gambling blacklist remains

Despite the reversal, however, Poland’s existing blacklist of online-gambling operators will remain active. Its legality was reaffirmed earlier this month in a decision handed down by Poland’s Provincial Administrative Court in response to an action launched by a handful of international operators. Those operators did not have Poland-issued licenses and thus found themselves on the country’s blacklist.

That blacklist, with 2,464 entries (and counting), contains domains from many of Europe’s most prominent and respected online-gambling firms. A random sampling of names found on the blacklist includes Betsson, bet-at-home, PokerStars.eu, Expekt, Unibet, Betcris, 888casino, Lottoland, PartyPoker, 5Dimes, and many others. Some of those sites, such as bet-at-home, also have been involved in a separate dispute with Polish authorities regarding third-party payment processors and associated bank accounts.

Legal dilemma remains

The fact that the Provincial Administrative Court upheld the online-gambling blacklist keeps the specter of online censorship in play, despite the Ministry of Digitization’s disavowal. The court upheld the blacklist’s legality despite testimony from Poland’s Ombudsman office, also called the “Commissioner for Human Rights.” That office testified against the online-gambling blacklist, declaring that “such a mechanism creates a serious risk to freedom of speech and access to information.”

Nonetheless, the court’s upholding of the blacklist’s legality places online gambling into a kind of legal limbo, where the industry as a whole — at least within Poland’s borders — may not be afforded the protections and rights of virtually any other online marketplace.