Police, ISPs in deal to hit bookies

Detectives will be given more information to fight illegal gambling during World Cup, says watchdog

Police have arranged to get information from internet service providers (ISPs) as part of their crackdown on illegal online soccer gambling during next month's World Cup, the lotteries watchdog said.

Moses Cheng Mo-chi, chairman of the Football Betting and Lotteries Commission, said the information from ISPs would be a great help to detectives investigating illegal bookmaking activities. It is not clear what the details of the arrangement with ISPs are. Lawmakers point out that there are laws that allow police to seek information from ISPs when necessary, citing the crackdown on pornographic websites.

Mr Cheng hailed the arrangement as a 'major breakthrough' in combating illegal soccer betting.

'The determination of the police force coupled with support from the ISPs will make it technically feasible [to take offenders to court]. I can tell you that theoretically this can be achieved,' he said.

The Hong Kong Jockey Club - the only legal bookmaker in the city - would not launch any new gambling products for the World Cup, he said.

Police sources said the liaison between detectives and ISPs would be part of operations against illegal betting during the tournament co-ordinated by the Organised Crime and Triad Bureau.

They said its technology crime division would be monitoring whether illegal betting was taking place on the internet and, if necessary, the police would contact the ISPs for information.

The sources said other police departments, including the Criminal Intelligence Bureau, would collect information about illegal bookies and pass it to frontline branches such as regional crime units who could launch raids on gambling syndicates.

'Much illegal soccer gambling activity involves triads and the cracking down on such illegal acts will be one of the priorities for the police,' a police spokesman said.

Lawmaker Lau Kong-wah, a member of the Legislative Council's security panel, welcomed the co-operation between ISPs and police, saying there are laws that allow police to seek information from ISPs when necessary.

'As long as they act in accordance with the law and request the information under proper procedures, they can do it,' he said.

But the ISPs yesterday declined to say exactly how they would cooperate with police.

'If the law enforcement departments make a request for information about our customers, we would pass it to our legal counsel for consideration in the light of the circumstances,' an i-Cable Broadband Service spokesman said. 'The factors to be considered would include the legal basis of such requests and whether a warrant was issued by the court.'

His company had an obligation to protect clients' privacy and would have to consider each case individually.

A spokeswoman for PCCW, which owns the popular Netvigator internet portal, said: 'We'd act in accordance with the law.'