EU, US warn Turkey about tightening control over Internet

Recent amendments to the Internet law that violate privacy and aggravate censorship by further tightening state control over the Internet have received strong criticism from the EU and the US.

Commenting on the latest amendments in an e-mail on Wednesday Ryan Heath, spokesperson for European Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes, told Today’s Zaman that it is “bad news for freedom.”

The most recent amendment to Turkey’s Internet law grants the Telecommunications Directorate (TİB) extensive powers over Internet use, such as blocking access to websites without a court order.

In his message Heath said the issue raises concern since Turkish Transportation, Maritime Affairs and Communications Minister Lütfi Elvan did not mention such a law when he met with Kroes last week in İstanbul.

According to the latest amendments that were passed in Parliament on Monday evening, within four hours of a request from TİB, Internet service providers are required to block a designated website.

As per the amendments, TİB will be able to block access to websites for “national security,” the “maintenance of public order” and “preventing a crime from being committed” without needing a court order.

The US criticized the amendments which also allow TİB to collect Internet traffic data without a court order.

“We’ve regularly raised our concerns about media freedom with Turkish officials, and have continued to urge the Turkish Government to ensure open access to all social media. And that’s a conversation we will continue having,” Marie Harf, deputy spokesperson of the US State Department, said in response to a question during a press conference in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday.

As per the amendments, after the initial request the head of TİB is required to submit the decision to block a certain Internet site to a penal judge of peace within 24 hours to obtain a court verdict. The judge then needs to pronounce a verdict on the issue within 48 hours.

Many believe the amendments are against the Constitution as the head of TİB has been granted powers that are not in accordance with the Constitution.

During a press meeting in İzmir on Wednesday Erdal Aksünger, a deputy from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), said that freedoms were not violated in such an arbitrary way even at the time of the military coup in 1980.

Aksünger, who is an IT specialist, believes the amendments are against the Constitution. “TİB’s authorization to block access to websites does away with the separation of powers,” he told Today’s Zaman in a recent statement.

In a previous amendment to the Internet law that was passed in February, following corruption investigations that became public in December, the TİB was only authorized to collect Internet traffic data from Internet service providers based on a court ruling reached as the result of a legal investigation.

In the February version of the Internet law, TİB was granted the power to block access to any content on a web portal without a court order, but only if the content constituted an invasion of privacy.

According to the latest amendment, TİB will also be able to obtain Internet traffic data from Internet service providers without a court order. The data will be given to the relevant authorities if a court order mandates it do so.

Most are deeply concerned that Turkey is on its way to becoming a totalitarian intelligence state. Referring to TİB’s power to collect all Internet traffic data, Doğan Akın, editor-in-chief of the T24 news portal, previously told Today’s Zaman: “If the government has the authority to monitor all forms of communication that represents a totalitarian mindset. This is not acceptable under the rule of law.”

Internet traffic data reveal the websites a person visited, how much time he or she spent on a website and with whom a person communicates by e-mail.

These latest amendments to the regulation of Internet news portals and websites further extended TİB’s powers of Internet censorship. “The main aim of the amendment is to bring news portals under strict control,” Akın commented.

The Turkish government was also criticized for Internet censorship by non-governmental organizations. “Turkey’s ruling party has responded to criticism of its policies by escalating Internet censorship and prosecuting social media users,” said Cynthia Wong, senior Internet researcher at Human Rights Watch, at the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in İstanbul last week.

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About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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