Turkish President Abdulla Gül signed into law a significant amendment to a pre-existing internet censorship law last week that granted Turkey’s telecommunications authority the power to block any website without a court order. The new law also forces Internet service providers to store information of web users’ activities for two years and make them available for authorities if requested, without the knowledge or consent of the individual in question. The law’s presence and signing has been met with an surge in aggressive protest demonstration. President Gül and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan ignited the very flame they had attempted to suppress.
Turkey is a nation with a large online presence. President Gül says this new bill will protect online privacy, but protestors are facing police armed with tear gas because they say the law means to suppress the flow of information from a corruption investigation that emerged last December. Most notably blocked following implementation of this law were Vimeo, YouTube and WordPress. That’s right, people in Turkey won’t be able to read about their protests on our little blog.
According to a 2013 transparency report, Turkey makes more requests to have information taken down than any other nation surveyed. The report also says that in the first 6 months of 2013, Google received 1,489 requests from executive and police officials to have information removed, in violation of law no. 5816.
Turkey is, for the second year in a row, world leader in imprisoned journalists, according to a report by the Committee to Protect Journalists. 40 Turkish journalists are currently in jail amid ongoing hostility from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been vocal in his hostility toward internet freedom. Erdogan called social media “the worst menace to society” following last year’s Gezi Park protests, which, as you could guess, were organized through social media.
Protesters aren’t just using social media as a means to assemble, however. As one act of online protest, dissidents began a Twitter campaign, #UnfollowAbdullahGul. Consequently, the Turkish president lost 96,000 followers this week and counting. Still, Gül has 4.2 million followers on his official Twitter profile.
A lot is at stake in Turkey. A country with already restricted press and Internet freedom is about to lose a lot more. The new law allows ISPs to provide information to assist the government in investigating any activity it deems criminal. The ISPs are required to give over this information without the consent of the person in question. According to Kerem Altiparmak, a professor of political science at Ankara University, “If the administration asks for a record of your use, you will have no knowledge of this. Since you don’t know that it happened it will be difficult to defend. Three years later there might be a case against you. You might learn that you visited a Web page or sent an e-mail two or three years ago. You no longer even have that computer.”