Big Government watching you

Big Government watching you

This week, the Turkish Parliament passed a series of laws, including changes about Internet privacy. Accordingly, now, the Telecommunication Transmission Directorate (TİB), a government agency, will monitor every single Internet user in Turkey and even archive his or her browsing history. Moreover, the TİB will be tied to the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), which, for decades, has been infamous for spying on Turkey’s own citizens more than anyone else.

In the other words, with this new law, every Internet user in Turkey will be legally watched by the government. In the past, authorities would have this right only with a court order and for specific individuals. Now, there will be no need for any court order.

Notably, the government had to pass the same law last winter, but it was prevented behind the scenes by former President Abdullah Gül, then the only individual in power who was still seriously committed to the principles of liberal democracy. As fellow Hurriyet Daily News columnist Serkan Demirtaş explained:

“The changes introduced to Parliament late Sept. 8 are deemed to be a follow-up to the previous government’s initiative to increase its control over the Internet in early 2014. At that time, then President Abdullah Gül urged the government to soften the law by hinting that he might not sign it into law. However, the provisions that Gül demanded to be removed from the law in February have allegedly been re-installed, less than two weeks since Gül left office.” (New Turkey further tightens Internet control, Sept. 10, 2014)

The key question now is what society feels about this new law. Are people happy that their government will be archiving every single move they do on the internet?

Well, it depends who you ask. The opponents of the current Justice and Development (AKP) government are against the law, and thus you can read lots of criticisms in their media. However, in the pro-government media I have not seen a single criticism. The writers there must be feeling that since the TİB and MİT are in safe (i.e., pro-AKP) hands, its extraordinary powers should not be a problem.

And that shows you how and why the AKP turned from a reformist, liberal-leaning government of the first decade of the 21st century to a relatively authoritarian one in the next decade. In the former era, both the AKP and its conservative base were threatened by state bureaucracy. Hence they found the liberal argument for a limited and transparent state very compelling. If today’s Internet law had been discussed then, for example, they would be all against it, fearing that the secularist-dominated state bureaucracy would use it to monitor and criminalize religious groups.

That explains why “democratization” in Turkey, as paradoxical as it may seem, has worked against liberalism. Because when the state was dominated by a narrow secular elite, the political aspirations of the conservative majority joined forces with the liberals’ yearning for a limited and transparent state. Yet, thanks to “democratization,” the conservative majority became dominant over the state. Now they see the liberals’ ideals as being irrelevant, if not treacherous.

Only diversification and individualization among the conservatives will change this picture. I believe it is likely, if not inevitable, to happen in the long run. In the short run, however, we will have a big government watching all of us — and with the support of a big part of society.