Heavy concerns about a new internet bill in Turkey

Heavy concerns about a new internet bill in Turkey

Reporters Without Borders is much concerned about an Internet bill that is to be debated by the Turkish parliament soon. Registered by a ruling AKP member mid-December as proposed amendments to Law 5651 on the Internet, it implies websites to be blocked without any court order and strong surveillance of Internet users.

“Law 5651 need overhauling to remove its repressive features and to guarantee respect for freedom of information but the parliament is unfortunately moving in the opposite direction,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The bill aims solely to reinforce cyber-censorship, government control of the Internet and surveillance of the public.

“Its adoption would be fraught with consequences for the fundamental freedoms of Internet users and the Turkish digital economy. We urge parliamentarians to revise this bill completely in consultation with civil society and taking account of the European Court of Human Rights’ criticism of current legislation.

“This bill is all the more disturbing for seeming to be an integral component of a series of draconian statements and initiatives by the authorities in recent months. In the face of unparalleled protests starting last summer and now ensnared in corruption scandals of unprecedented scale, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government should realize that its salvation does not lie in more censorship.”

The High Council for Telecommunications (TIB) is already allowed to order the blocking of websites without a court order in cases of paedophile content, suicide advocacy and “other obscene” content.

But under this proposed law, it would also be able to block without a court order in cases of “violation of privacy,” content that is “discriminatory or insulting towards certain members of society” and to protect the family and children. And the Ministry of Transport, Maritime Affairs and Communication would be able to order blocking as well.

Many websites are already arbitrarily blocked in Turkey but the lack of any need for a court order and the vagueness of the blocking criteria could lead to mass censorship.

The bill reduces the delay before execution of blocking decisions from 72 hours to 24 hours. “In emergency cases,” the TIB would thn be able to block websites within four hours. Anyone who thinks content is “violating their privacy” would also be able to contact Internet Service Providers (ISPs) directly to get it blocked within four hours. Appealing against blocking would only be possible after the event.

Besides, filtering methods would be extended as the bill would enable to block content by URL and IP address, and not just by domain name. Keyword filtering is also considered.

The bill would then bring the Turkish Internet under the full TIB’s authority. Enshrined as the Internet’s supreme entity, the latter would thus enjoy complete impunity.

Internet access providers would be brought under a new body that would centralize blocking requests and content removal. This Union of Access Providers would then operate as an additional government tool for controlling ISPs and other technical intermediaries, which could be shut down for not complying with the installation of the required surveillance devices. The possibility of prison sentences for access providers that failed to block sites was raised during debate in parliamentary commission.

The bill would require ISPs to keep users’ Internet connection records for between one and two years and to surrender them to the relevant authorities on request. Concern is all the greater because the bill does not specify what data must be handed over or what use would be made of it. Experts say it would include the history of visited websites and social networks, searches, IP addresses and even email subject lines.

Posted content would also be subject to constant keyword surveillance. By doing so, the TIB would not limit itself to looking for crimes but is meant to act to “protect the family and children.” It is not yet known how this would affect websites but surely the Turkish net economy will be.

Some demonstrations took place on January 18th, in Istanbul but also in 14 other cities in the country, to fight against this law.

For many years, Turkey has been classified by Reporters Without Borders as a country “under surveillance” because of its cyber-censorship policies. It is ranked 154th out of 179 countries in the 2013 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.

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