Saturday, October 14, 2006

Internet 101 --- Why the UIGEA's ISP-Blocking Provisions Won't Work

As mentioned in a previous post, the most directly threating of the statutory clauses enacted in that fascist piece of legislation, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, is the potential for the government to attempt to order ISPs to block certain sites that the government identifies as being involved in Internet gaming.

It can't work and it won't work. It doesn't matter whether the battle is fought on First Amendment grounds --- how dare the U.S. government attempt to block my access to sites that have value for legitimate writerly research and news --- or on the technical level. Such an approach shows a basic lack of understanding about how Internet technologies work.

Apart from banking and registration requirements, it's not only possible to play online poker in total anonymity; you could do it yourself within the next 15 minutes. It requires exactly two components: an anonymizing web browser, and one of the new poker sites based on Flash technology, rather than a resident poker client. Both already exist.

The anonymous web browser comes to us courtesy of a project originally funded by the Electronic Freedom Foundation [EFF], called TOR, short for "The Onion Router." Onion routing is a technological manipulation originally designed for the channelling of communication from remote devices, but experimentation and continued development have led to the release of Torpark, a variation of Mozilla FireFox that runs a few percent slower, but uses the software's "onion proxy" to route the communications through a continually recycling network of Tor virtual servers, many of which have already been set up around the globe. The data is encrypted, too.

Torpark is the current version of the software, and you can download it for free at I've already downloaded and run the software --- for research purposes only, of course --- and run it on a couple of sites to test its claims. Here's what you need to know, excerpted directly from the Torpark download site:

Download Torpark and put it on a USB Flash keychain (this means that you have to Flash memory installed on your computer, whether in the form of a separate drive or not; it comes pre-installed on many machines --- hh). Plug it into any internet terminal whether at home, school, or public. Run Torpark.exe and it will launch a Tor circuit connection, which creates an encrypted tunnel from your computer indirectly to a Tor exit computer, allowing you to surf the internet anonymously. How much does Torpark cost? IT'S FREE.

In short, it does what it says. I ran across a post at 2+2 which stated that the owners of the site --- a favorite with new, low-level players --- had implemented one of those honor-check location services, similar to what porn sites do when they ask you to click through a page stating that, yes, indeedy, you are 18 years of age or older. When you browse, your ISP address is available under traditional browser set-ups to the site that you connect to, and that can be traced back to your physical location. In the case of, I saw the notice showing that they had now implemented the honor system, so I re-routed my original connection (using both Internet Explorer and standard Firefox), through a dial-up port in one of those states. True to the claim,'s software identified my computer as being in one of those states... as if I care, from that perspective.

But when I reconnected to the same site using Torpark, using that same affected-state connection, it failed to identify my computer as connecting from that location; the claims of the software's developers are, in fact, valid.

Now, let me turn your attention to one of several newer online poker sites, that being Pitbull Poker. I'm not a Pitbull Poker customer, but the reason they're mentioned here is their use of Flash technology. bWin/Ongame is another company that has experimented with Flash poker applications, but they don't factor into this pending UIGEA workaround, due to their publicly-traded, UK-based status. In short, if you play at Pitbull Poker, you don't have to install a resident poker client, and they don't have to know your physical location.

It'll start with the PitBull Pokers of the world, but expect something similar from the larger sites, or look for those sites to incorporate the same sort of anonymizing, onion-router technology into their own resident clients. If they go the Flash route, however, they can in all innocence claim that they do not know where the player physically resides. And mind you, that's with existing technology. If I had the money, I'd think about lobbying a banana-republic island nation for the rights to set up a mailing-address service: no physical residency required, no questions asked.

The battle between fascist/communist governments --- this includes the U.S. --- and the freedom of information and international reach of the Internet and other electronic frontiers will go down as one of the defining struggles of our age. Assuming of course, that there are other, following ages, that can look back at us and comment.

For this reason, the ISP-blocking provisions of the UIGEA are of the least concern. If they're not thrown out through legal challenges, then they can be dealt with through other means.


C.L. Russo said...

Yeah, but don't they just have to stuff cotton into the internet tubes so the poker can't get through to our computing machines?

Haley said...

Sounds like someone saw the John Stewart bit on The Daily Show. For something truly hilarious --- not to mention more than a bit scary --- go visit here: