Internet censorship and surveillance in Turkey

By EDRi · March 12, 2014

The Turkish government recently passed a new law that will deepen the existing censorship and surveillance on the Internet.

The new law is an amendment to Law #5651, an article of which has been previously condemned by European Court of Human Rights (Ahmet Yildirim vs. Turkish Government case where the Court ruled that Turkey had violated the right to freedom of expression through an overly broad blocking of Google sites). The new law brings even more drastic measures than the Law #5651.

Law #5651 was initiated in 2007 and it allows the Government to block web sites with or without the court order. The site aims to keep track of the web sites blocked and reports that they are currently over 40,000. But the real number is probably much higher. The exact number is a mystery because TIB (the government agency responsible for blocking) refuses to disclose it.

Efforts to adopt the new law accelerated in the beginning of January 2014 after the corruption records of Government ministers and officials appeared on the Internet. This follows a major corruption investigation on 17 December 2013 after which four ministers had to resign. As a countermeasure against the publication of the records, the  government justifies the new law to protect the “honour of individuals” against defamation on the Internet.

Key concerns regarding the new law include:

# The items of the new law are absorbed in an entirely unrelated billentitled “The Organization and Responsibilities of the Family and Social Policies Ministry.” At a time when the Turkish political stage is being shaken by accusations of corruption, graft investigations, pressures on the judiciary and on the law enforcement, the ruling party AKP, taking advantage of the current tumult, appears to be trying to enact legislation which will bring the Internet under the control of the government. This is in line with the speech of the Prime Minister who called social media a “menace” in relation to the Gezi Park events in June 2013.

# It is significant that prior to the submission of this draft bill which contains extremely technical articles, nobody was notified and the relevant NGOs were not consulted.

# The extraordinary zeal and hastiness in preparation of the Law as well as its speedy passing from Parliamentary Committee leaves little doubt about it being a reaction to  disclosure regarding apparent corruption. It must also be kept in mind that the elections for the local (municipal) governments will be held on 30 March 2014.

# The new law will introduce URL-based blocking instead of the current IP-based blocking. The aim for this seems to block the individual materials such as a corruption videos on Youtube rather than the entire Youtube site. TIB was eager to block the corruption allegations in Youtube, Vimeo and Soundcloud even before the proposed Law was passed and it the new legislation gives it a legal basis! It must also be noted that the materials published targeting opponents of the government remain freely available  on all Internet platforms.

# Since January 2014, the TIB is headed by a former secret service official and the new law envisages to increase its staffing substantially, a move which appears to be converting the ministry into a full-blown domestic surveillance and censorship apparatus. Besides Internet blocking, TIB is also responsible for telephone tapping. On 18 July 2013, its parent regulatory organization (BTK) issued a decision (#401) which has been hastily removed from its web site after a few hours. The decision ordered all land-line telephone operators to establish infrastructure for “bringing all their traffic” into TIB premises.

# By the new law, the TIB officials will be prosecuted only if their superiors permit this. This will, in effect, lead to the exemption of these officials from prosecution.

# Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will keep all the logs of Internet users 1-2 years by the law, extending the retention period beyond the previous 12-month period, increasing the infringement of the privacy of internet users..

# The new law envisages establishing a association of ISPs with obligatory membership. Currently TIB contacts all of the 196 ISPs in Turkey for site blocking. In the new practice, the TIB will contact only the association, which will be responsible for disseminating the order to the ISPs and monitoring its execution. Unofficially, TIB forces the ISPs to implement Deep Packet Inspection systems for blocking and surveillance. The ISPs vehemently object this, because they will have to incur the costs of new hardware and software, a cost which, logically, will have to be passed on to the end-users. In other words, Turkish internet users will have to pay for their own surveillance.

Press release about the new legislation on (06.01.14):

Turkey may ban Facebook and YouTube if Erdoğan wins elections:

Turkish PM might shut down Facebook and YouTube ‘if needed’ (07.03.14)

Turkish president rejects Facebook, YouTube ban over wiretaps (07.03.14)

Turkey’s Gul says Facebook, YouTube ban out of question (07.03.14)

The Turkish Government is trying to justify Internet censorship (26.02.14)

(Contribution by Melih Kirlidog – Alternative Informatics)