With the recently introduced amendment to Turkish Internet law, we — Turkish Internet users, bloggers and journalists — have found ourselves again in the midst of serious censorship discussions. In a country with such a young, open and dynamic population, it’s a pity we have to discuss the same topic again and again over the years.
I’d like to take a brief look at what this law brings to Turkey’s digital landscape.
1. New amendments add new crimes that are punishable by new Internet bans
Currently, two basic types of crimes are punishable by Internet bans in Turkey. The new amendment to the current law, introduced by Zeynep Karahan Uslu — a deputy from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) — aims to add another category, defined as “hate crime.” Websites that insult society by using language that discriminates on the basis of race, religion or gender, etc., will be blocked.
- There is no doubt that cyberbullying and defamation are very harmful acts. However, one doesn’t need to be a law professor to see how a law written with such a vague language paves the way for innumerable website bans in Turkey.
2. No court order will be needed for website bans
The Turkish Ministry of Transportation, Maritime Affairs and Communications and the Telecommunications Directorate (TİB) will be given absolute power over Turkish Internet service providers. This will allow the authorities to ban access to any website without a court order in just four hours.
- This amendment will give digital superpowers to few individuals in Ankara. An angry official will be able to restrict access to any Internet content.
3. Internet bans are getting more sophisticated
Using OpenDNS will not be enough to bypass website bans. New techniques to restrict access will be used, such as banning domain names, IP addresses and URLs. Any Web page can be restricted. This could include tweets and Facebook postings.
- Want to bypass Internet bans in Turkey by changing your DNS or using a proxy? You can say goodbye to that. There is no room, however, for absolute censorship on the Internet. Where there are sophisticated Internet bans there are also sophisticated solutions. Turkish Internet users will get more familiar with VPNs and Tor, which allow us to browse websites and send and receive email anonymously and securely.
4. Turkish Internet service providers will gather under one association
The draft law forces ISPs to join a single association. Any company that doesn’t join this association will face fines and won’t be able to operate in Turkey. ISPs will be forced to take necessary measures to block illegal Internet content.
One hundred hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute. How, I wonder, will ISPs take the necessary measures to block illegal content. Will they hire “precrime” cops like in the movie “Minority Report”?
5. All online activity will be recorded!
These ISPs will be authorized to record and store users’ search histories, personal data and online activities for up to two years and to provide this information to officials upon request.
- As a person who is familiar with Internet technology, I have few concerns about these Internet bans because there are — and always will be — many ways to bypass them. However, the gathering of millions of people’s digital data is a dangerous move against fundamental privacy rights. In a country where 1 million credit card holders’ personal data can be sold for a few thousand dollars, this is a very frightening move.
I wouldn’t mind if one website were banned, for I will always find a way to access it if I want; but I would be very concerned if my entire Internet history were used without my permission or sold to marketing companies. The new amendment doesn’t answer my concerns at all.
I am also very doubtful if the ISPs will be able to deal with such huge amounts of data in a country of 40 million Internet users. With every keystroke new data will be added to this huge archive.
Accepting everyone as a potential criminal is not a proper idea in a healthy democracy.
Can censorship be the way to fight harmful content on the internet?
My answer to this question is clear; NO! If there is an evidence of committed crime, law enforcement should find ways to deal with it by other means.
We are living in a world where hundreds of thousands of gigabytes of information is being shared on the Internet every minute. It would take us years to watch just a small part of YouTube’s video archives. In the age of content abundance, the only way to promote content is to make it unique, and the best way to make it unique is to censor it.
Censor an idea, and see how fast it spreads!
Censor a book or movie and you’ll see how popular it becomes.
Censorship is the best and cheapest way to promote content, it’s the best free PR tool available on earth.
I wish our dear lawmakers could make a sense of that.