On 27 August, a British journalist and a cameraman working for Vice News, a news channel that broadcasts in-depth documentaries about current subjects, and their fixer were detained in Turkey while reporting in Diyarbakir, the main city of the country’s predominantly Kurdish southeastern region. At the beginning of September, the three men were charged by a Turkish judge in Diyarbakir with “deliberately aiding an armed organisation”. The basis for the charge was that the fixer used a complex encryption system on his personal computer that many Islamic State militants allegedly also use for strategic communications.
In recent years, there have been several cases of journalists and activists being harassed or detained in Turkey. Moreover, the current Turkish government has repeatedly censored and monitored online platforms, such as YouTube and Twitter. However, what makes this case stand out, is the argument used to present the charges. For certain governments, the use of a neutral technology is becoming a new reason to believe that people have something to hide and that they are committing a crime.
However, encrypted communications have long been an important element of digital security, used for example, not only by companies such as Amazon or PayPal, but also by human rights defenders, lawyers and citizens that want to preserve their privacy and security. Privacy-enhancing technologies, like the TOR browser or email encryption, are essential to ensure that we can express ourselves freely – and that ideas that may make society advance have spaces where they can develop.
Nevertheless, there is a common misunderstanding that high standards of privacy could create unnecessary burdens for law enforcement agencies. However, experts such as the United Nation’s Office of the High Commissioner, disagree with this view. In a recent report, the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner stated that encryption “provides the privacy and security necessary for the exercise of the right to freedom of opinion and expression in the digital age.”
On 6 September, Vice News reported that two of the detained journalists had been released and have returned to the UK. The third member of the team is still being held by the Turkish authorities.
Vice News fixer “charged over encryption software” (02.09.2015)
Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye (22.05.2015)
U.N. report: Encryption is important to human rights — and backdoors undermine it (28.05.2015)
Why the terrorist attacks I’ve endured have strengthened my commitment to privacy
EDRi-gram: A new wave of Internet blocking in Turkey (29.07.2015)
EDRi-gram: Social media platforms blocked again in Turkey (08.04.2015)
(Contribution by Pierre Christopher, EDRi intern)