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.