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More than 70,000 phones tapped in Turkey

ANKARA - Radikal | 10/17/2010 12:00:00 AM |

More than 70,000 telephones in Turkey are currently being 'officially' electronically surveilled, daily Radikal reported Sunday.

More than 70,000 telephones in Turkey are currently officially under electronic surveillance, daily Radikal reported Sunday.

Radikal said it was the first media institution to have visited the Telecommunications Directorate, or TİB, in Ankara, the institution responsible for installing and maintaining telephone surveillance by court order.

Exactly 71,538 telephones have been tapped by TİB through court orders, among which 65 percent have ostensibly been tapped to gather intelligence on terrorism and organized crime, Radikal reported. Wiretaps for the purpose of gathering intelligence can be requested by intelligence institutions to prevent crimes from being committed.

The remaining 35 percent of surveillance is being carried out because of strong suspicions that a crime has been committed and no other way to obtain evidence.

While evidence obtained through wiretaps can legitimately be used in court, evidence obtained in intelligence gathering cannot. 

Contrary to the perception that TİB officials tap telephones and listen to headphones during working hours, the agency only records the communications on a phone line, including conversations, text messages and faxes. It then records the information and sends it to an appropriate security agency, such as the gendarmerie, police or National Intelligence Agency, or MİT.

TİB also employs lawyers who examine court orders transmitted to the office ordering surveillance to be carried out. If the lawyers find any irregularities they send the court order back, but begin the surveillance regardless. If a lawyer’s objection is accepted the surveillance is destroyed.

Besides recording communications, TİB also determines the time and duration of communication between certain phone numbers. Surveillance recordings are stored in servers in a room to which only two officials have bio-secure access.

It is possible for TİB to tap all landlines and GSM lines in the country, but not the fiber optic cables used by the General Staff and intelligence institutions.

[HH] How was TİB founded?

TİB was founded in 2005 after a series of developments convinced not only the Prime Ministry, but also the Presidency and General Staff that taping procedures needed to be legally regulated, Radikal columnist Murat Yetkin reported Sunday.

The technical unit of MİT told their undersecretary, Şensal Atasagun, that someone was trying to tap MİT. MİT’s research concluded that gendarmerie forces were trying to tap MİT phones. This happened after MİT transferred a file to both Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and then-Chief of General Staff Hilmi Özkök about the ongoing case regarding the alleged Ergenekon gang.

After MİT discovered they were being taped by the gendarmerie they complained to Erdoğan. Subsequently Erdoğan, General Staff officials and MİT met a couple of times to discuss the issue.

It was suggested that MİT be the sole body legally responsible for phone surveillance. Atasagun retired in June 2005, Emre Taner filled the position and a month later TİB was legally founded.

Yaşar Büyükanıt, former head of the General Staff, said at a conference Saturday: “They should have tapped me, probably... I am kidding of course. Probably they did tap me, if [prosecutors] call me for this reason, I would go and testify,” he said.

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