Why Is Latvia Blocking the BitPay Blog?

Bitpay Blog seems to be blocked by at least on Latvian ISP, but no one seems to know why.

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Why Is Latvia Blocking the BitPay Blog?

On Thursday, I saw the following warning from the Latvian Lotteries and Gambling Supervision Inspection (IUAUI) when I tried to access the BitPay blog from my laptop in Riga. The BitPay home page displayed normally; just the blog was blocked.

So, I reached out to a few other people in Riga, and no one else reported that the site was blocked for them. Even my phone, which has a local SIM and connects to a local 3G network, displays the site.

It’s only at my computer on my home connection (ISP: Baltcom) that this message seems to pop up. What’s going on?

Well, after conducting a little unscientific research, it seems Latvia’s firewall just might not be so effective.

Legal Context

I called the Lotteries and Gambling Supervision Inspection on Thursday afternoon to figure out why BitPay is apparently on its blacklist.

Senior inspector Ilze Ziverte in the organization’s Control Department told me that, as of August 1, Latvia had been blocking all sorts of websites that were connected to gambling.

“We block websites where Latvian people can play poker or some games where there is blackjack or roulette or slot machine games,” she said. “We block all websites who aren’t licensed in Latvia.”

This is in accordance with a new law passed in early August. Here is what IUAUI’s news page reads:

“Lotteries and gambling supervisory inspection on the base of Sections 13.1  and 19 of Electronic Communications Law beginning August 1, 2014 have rights to adopt resolution, in accordance with the publicly available internet providers have obligation to restrict access to  illegal online gambling sites. […]

“On the base of Section 65 of Credit institutions Law and Section 44.2  Payment services and electronic money Law, financial transactions to and from illegal online gambling operators are prohibited from August 1, 2014.”

So, Latvia is going after online gambling sites that haven’t been licensed according to the country’s rules, which for the sake of argument we can just call “BetLicenses.”

Here is a PDF of Latvia’s blacklist. Neither BitPay nor the company’s blog are on the list.

I asked Ziverte how her department finds and identifies websites for the blacklist, and it seems most of the research is done by simply searching keywords and normal web browsing.

“We found on the internet 2500 illegal websites where Latvian people can play poker, blackjack, roulette and some other games. Every week, we block 12 websites.”

And “block,” she told me, means blocking the IP address and the domain name. Her department then notifies blacklisted websites that their businesses are illegal in Latvia and asks them to apply for a license in Latvia if they want to serve the country’s online gamblers.

But the question remains: How did BitPay’s blog get caught up in the IUAUI’s regulatory net? 

No one in the office seemed to know. In fact, no one I spoke to even appeared to recognize the site.

My Unscientific Research

I reached out to a handful of other people I knew living in Latvia to see whether the BitPay blog was blocked on their computers, and all results came back negative.

It was only after trying with five different people that I realized most of us are running VPNs. Mine just happened to be off when I tried the BitPay blog this afternoon.

Sure enough, turning on Hola! was enough for me to circumvent the blacklist. Then, rather than bugging my friends again, I tried out the same process with a site that is published on the IUAUI’s blacklist, eurogrand.com.

Same results: A warning when Hola! was off, access when it was on.

That still doesn’t explain why I had access to the BitPay blog from my phone, though. If any readers have a better idea of what’s going on, please let me know.

To BitPay or any other non-gaming companies who run afoul of Latvia’s blacklist, here is the contact information for everyone at the IUAUI so your businesses can resolve whatever issues the organization might have with your websites.

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