The Israeli parliament has enacted new legislation that will authorize Israeli courts to issue orders that block, inter alia, online gambling websites . This new Act, which enters into force on September 26, 2017, is the result of, inter alia, an Israeli Supreme Court judgement that prevented the Israeli Police from blocking access and closing down websites on the basis of its “terrestrial” authority to close down premises that are used to commit an offense.
While the Act refers to several types of offenses, we will limit our review here solely to the offense of organizing gambling. Therefore, this analysis should not be considered as a comprehensive review of the Act, but solely as a review relating to online gambling activities.
The Act authorizes a District Court, following the request made by a state prosecutor, to issue an order blocking access to a website, if the Court is convinced of any of the following:
- Blocking access to the website is essential to prevent the continued performance of the offense of organizing gambling; or
- Blocking access to the website is essential to prevent exposing internet users in Israel to an activity that, if performed in Israel, would be considered an offense of organizing gambling, and the website’s activity has ties to Israel.
The Act authorizes the District Court, assuming any of items (1) or (2) above has been met, to issue, instead of a blocking order, an order instructing internet location service providers to prevent the website from being located through its services.
If any of items (1) or (2) above are met, and the server on which the website is hosted is in Israel or under the control of a person in Israel or a corporation registered in Israel, the Court, instead of issuing a blocking order or a location prevention order, should issue an order mandating the removal of the website from the server, unless the Court finds it is impossible to do so or due to other special reasons.
When deciding whether to issue any of the abovementioned orders, the Court will consider the following:
- The extent of harm caused to the Israeli public from the continued operation of the website, and its ties to Israel;
- The extent of harm caused to the public’s access to online information and the risk to damage caused to content that is unrelated to the offense of organizing gambling, whether on the website or on another website;
- The extent of harm caused to ISPs; and
- The extent of harm caused to internet users’ privacy.
The Act clearly states that orders can be issued in respect of a website, regardless of whether, in addition to the criminal offense committed via the website, there are also legal activities taking place via the website, provided that the orders are issued solely in respect of that part of the website through which the offense of organizing gambling is taking place.
The Act also attempts to deal with a common method of circumvention of such orders; that is, the practice of changing the IP address of the website. To block this practice, the Act authorizes high-ranking police offices to apply any order issued by a Court according to the Act to websites that have other IP addresses, provided that such application does not extend the scope of harm caused by the initial orders. According to the Act, a state prosecutor must apply for an approval of the Court within seven days from the date in which the high-ranking police officer applied the order to such additional website.
The Act requires that the Court summon to the hearing re the request to issue any order, with reasonable diligence, the owner or the operator of the website, the ISP or the internet location service provider, and, if the server on which the website is hosted is in Israel, the owner and operator of the server as well. However, the Court can issue orders according to the Act if it believes the defendants were duly summoned but did not appear at the hearing.
Orders may be issued by the Court on the basis of classified information disclosed to the Court, as well as on the basis of inadmissible evidence.
The decision of the Court may be appealed within 30 days from the date of the decision.
ISPs, internet location service providers, and hosting providers that do not comply with an order issued according to the Act are committing an offense that carries a prison sentence of up to two years.
As can be understood from the provisions of the Act, the Israeli legislature has introduced measures aimed specifically at online gambling websites, in an effort to block access to such websites. It seems that this new measure, coupled with the anti-gambling spirit of the Israeli authorities, does not bode well for online gambling operators targeting the Israeli market.