A law passed in Florida earlier this year that banned “electronic gambling devices” may have accidentally outlawed all computers, smartphones, tablets and any other device that can connect to the Internet in the entire state.
The bill, known as HB 155, was signed into law April 10 by Gov. Rick Scott after an investigation of a charity that raised $300 million through Internet gambling. Only $6 million was actually donated,, and the scandal led to the resignation of former Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll.
About 1,000 Internet cafes in Florida were shut down because of the law. Opponents argue that definitions in the bill are unclear and allow for bigger consequences. Slot machines, for example, are defined as any machine or device that someone can use to play a game of chance. But any device that can access the Internet can access a game of chance.
Consuelo Zapata, who owned an Internet café that was shut down by HB 155, has filed a lawsuit against the state of Florida. Zapata argues that HB 155 infringes on her right to promote goods and services (computers with Internet access) and is therefore unconstitutional.
“The Florida Legislature rushed to pass broad-sweeping amendments to existing statutes that violate the United States Constitution in a frenzy fueled by distorted judgment in the wake of a scandal that included the lieutenant governor’s resignation,” Zapata argues in the lawsuit.
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It’s hard to imagine that Florida lawmakers will have any reason to actually ban smartphones and tablets. But this illustrates a growing problem with legislation aimed at regulating technology – lawmakers don’t quite understand the Internet. At best, these vague bills create confusion and strange loopholes. At worst, they open the door for far-reaching laws and potentially devastating consequences.