Recently the U.S. Justice Department announced it was blocking anyone in the U.S. from accessing online poker sites as well as accusing 11 people of bank fraud and illegally operating gambling websites. This story is disturbing on several levels. Firstly, upon what Constitutional basis does any government have the power to declare certain behaviors that harm no one to be “illegal”? It’s apparently not “illegal” when governments do it (lottery). This is not only an unconstitutional action but a hypocritical one as well.
Some might argue it is justified because gambling has a potential to harm the gambler. True enough, but, the gambler is aware of the risks; there is no deception or fraud. Some might then argue that gambling could harm the gamblers family. Yes, that’s possible. But there are lots of things people can spend too much money on thus potentially harming their family… should all those goods be made illegal? Or perhaps we should submit to government approval before we make a purchase to be sure it is appropriate for our level of income so that it won’t harm our family? The inherent danger of trying to regulate the behavior of others is that we may soon find our own behavior regulated. The Libertarian philosophy runs counter to the notion that government knows how to run our lives better than we do. One of the fundamental planks in the party platform states:
“Individuals should be free to make choices for themselves and to accept responsibility for the consequences of the choices they make. No individual, group, or government may initiate force against any other individual, group, or government. Our support of an individual’s right to make choices in life does not mean that we necessarily approve or disapprove of those choices.”
Secondly, on what grounds does the government restrict the right of a U.S. citizen from accessing any website (that does not depict real physical violence)? Shall they start censoring our access to books they disapprove of? These events illustrate that Internet freedom is an illusion. Government can take these freedoms only because we permit it. Freedom of speech extends not only to the person making the speech but also to the person consuming it. To praise the ideals of free speech in one breath and then make consumption of it illegal in the next breath makes a mockery of free speech.
Lastly, the charges of “bank fraud” sound ominous but are misleading. The supposed fraud is a “letter of the law technically legal” interpretation of a 2006 federal law that forbids financial institutions from processing transactions related to online gambling. Apparently there was weak support for outlawing online gambling, so instead they outlawed activities associated with it (money transfers) rather than the activity itself. A deceptive and cowardly action intended to bypass the will of the people in favor of the will of the brick & mortar casinos.
This attack on free individuals (producers and consumers) causing no harm is a prime example of the “Nanny State” in action: intruding into the personal choices of its citizens, because after all, the nanny knows best, right?