Internet restrictions in Turkey violate fundamental rights
After the major earthquake that took place in Turkey on 6 February, covering 10 provinces and a population of approximately 15 million, bandwidth restriction for social media platforms such as Twitter and Tiktok was implemented. Whenever the current government was criticised for not meeting its obligations, throttling was used as an option to filter and prevent the flow of information.
After the major earthquake that took place in Turkey on 6 February, covering 10 provinces and a population of approximately 15 million, bandwidth restriction for social media platforms such as Twitter and Tiktok was implemented beginning at 16:00 on 8 February, lasting for 10 hours.
The bandwidth throttling was in place upon the decision taken by BTK (Information Technologies and Communications Institution) at the request of the President in accordance with the 10th paragraph of Article 60 of the Electronic Communications Law No. 5809, according to the announcement of the related authorities.
Band throttling, access blocking, and content removal
Net throttling has been implemented many times before in Turkey, including two other major disasters in the Soma Mining District and the Çorlu Train incident. Whenever the current government was criticised for not meeting its obligations, throttling was used as an option to filter and prevent the flow of information. Acts such as band throttling, access blocking, and content removal are mostly turned into a method used against victims of violence, vulnerable groups such as women, children, the disabled, the elderly, as well as the opposition.
The recent throttling act has taken place based on the same legal provisions applied in the explosion taking place in Taksim square late 2022. During a major earthquake, such an act covering social media platforms, including a platform as expansive as Twitter, prevents the families of the deceased and injured, especially their relatives and acquaintances, from obtaining vital information.
Accurate flow of information serves the purpose of emergency coordination, rescue operations, area plotting as well as provision of durable necessities in disaster areas. Moreover, this barrier to information access causes more anxiety and despair on the side of the relatives of the earthquake victims, whether they are supporting on the spot or from afar.
On a technical level, emergency toll, calls for aid and support shared on Twitter and other social media platforms are used by volunteer software developers and programmers in mapping, plotting and recording for efficient distribution of resources and emergency aid. All net restrictions prevent instant and accurate data acquisition and hinder aids from reaching the right place.
Access to information means freedom
Setting aside their ownership and capital structures, social media platforms have become the most important channels of sharing public information and maintaining information flow in autocratic countries like Turkey where mainstream media are suppressed. Therefore, filtering by ISPs and restriction in social media platforms prevent not only freedom of communication and information, but also freedom of expression and freedom of the press. This practice violates the citizens’ fundamental right to receive information, obtain news and the media’s right to inform.
Acts of throttling and net restrictions, based on a provision added to the Electronic Communications Law via the State of Emergency Decree No. 671 in 2016, not only violate international legislations, the national constitution, and the precedent Constitutional Court decisions, but also strikes a blow to the democracy of the country.
Therefore, as we have said since the day we were founded, “Access to information means freedom.” #DoNotTouchMyInternet #InternetIsLife. Access to accurate and qualified information in times of disaster is a fundamental right of citizens and is vital. In order to combat disinformation, the political power must first ensure transparent information flow and access to digital infrastructures providing public information.
"We, as Alternative Informatics Association (AiA) would like to underline that we are following the net restrictions with great concern and that we have applied to BTK as well as the Constitutional Court for clarification of these acts and amendment of provisions causing violations."
Contribution by: EDRi member, Alternatif Bilisim