Turkey's main opposition CHP proposes immediate measures to restore Internet freedom
ANKARA – Hürriyet Daily News
A group of people throw out their computers in protest for the Internet bill, carrying banners such as ‘404 freedom not found’ or ‘The government, don’t mess with the Internet.’ The controversial Internet bill was approved by President Abdullah Gül (inset) on Feb 18, but the government is working on amendments. CİHAN photo
Turkey’s main opposition party has proposed immediate measures to liberate the Internet once more after the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) moved to further restrict Internet use and thus block people’s access for information.
“The AKP government, striving to restrict freedom in every domain, is stepping up its pressure on the Internet, which is becoming increasingly important in our daily lives. The government is introducing various regulations and practices one after the other to restrict the freedom to access to the Internet, something that plays a critical role for citizens, in terms of accessing information,” read a policy brief prepared by the Research and Policy Development Department of the Republican People’s Party (CHP).
“The CHP believes that ‘Safe Internet Use’ is a right. The CHP is a proponent of introducing regulations aimed at preventing crime [online]. However, when introducing these regulations, it must be taken into account that the net is a ‘preference-based environment,’” read the policy brief. “All regulations must uphold fundamental rights and freedoms. The restriction-free use of the net is just as important as its safe use. This is the reason why the state’s pressure and control over the net should be abolished.”
According to the policy brief, the measures need to be taken to set the Internet free again are as follows:
- All laws related to the Internet should be harmonized with international agreements to which Turkey is a party.
- All authorities, except for courts, should be stripped of their power to block access.
- The scope of checklist crimes that provide the legal basis for the prohibitions should be abridged and redefined in a way that leaves no room for interpretation.
- Instead of blocking access to a website that offers a lot of content, access should be denied only to the pages that constitute an offense.
- Nongovernmental Organizations should be encouraged to gather concrete information on information technology and inform the public.
- Monitoring social media and keeping tabs on people, currently practiced on the grounds of the Interior Ministry’s decree and by the police, should be halted immediately.
- The state should rapidly promote “digital literacy,” which is required for safe Internet use.
- The Bill on the Protection of Personal Data should be adopted as soon as possible and “do not track” regulations should be introduced.
40 million Internet users in Turkey
There are approximately 40 million Internet users in Turkey, with three out of four of them using social media applications, the CHP said.
“Turkey currently ranks among the leading countries in the world in terms of social media use. In Turkey, nearly one-third of all Internet users have a Twitter account. During the Gezi Movement, the number of active Twitter users went up to 10 million from 2 million, and this number currently exceeds 12 million. The number of Facebook users is upwards of 32 million,” it said.
Recalling that last summer’s Gezi Movement proved how efficiently social media could be used to enjoy democratic rights and the freedom of information, it underlined social media tools like Twitter and Facebook had become the main sources of information flow in an environment where the mainstream media has failed.
Here are some abridged excerpts from the CHP’s policy brief:
- Individuals that connect with one another through new communication technologies have the potential to create effective and strong social movements. As a result, the government is afraid of people making connections through social media. The prime minister, who has called social media sites “ugly,” “terrible” and “immoral” in the past, said, “There’s a pain in the neck called Twitter,” explicitly laying his concern bare. The AKP, which is putting pressure on everything that it sees as a threat to its absolute domination, is trying to take social media under control as an extension of its intolerance to opposition.
- The Internet Law was drafted without consulting experts in the field, as was the case for the previous filtering mechanism. With the adoption of the law, the current arbitrary censorship will further intensify. It will be possible to take down websites on the grounds of “confidentiality of private life” without a court order.
- The bill goes against the nature of the Internet and imposes financial and legal obligations on many small and medium sized ISPs and web-hosting companies. The services of ISPs that do not become members of the Access Providers Union (ESB), envisaged in the bill, will be terminated. With this provision, in addition to the filter mechanism, the state will be able to intervene in all communications through the ESB. The ESB, established in an attempt to appear like an NGO, will turn into a new means of censorship in the hands of the oppressive AKP government.
- The bill broadens the definition of “checklist” crimes (crimes listed in the Code of Criminal Procedure 5271) and facilitates blocking online content. It will be possible to deny access to a website that contains “inappropriate” content, which will be identified according to a search run with keywords.
- The bill also provides “measures to block alternative routes of access” may also be taken for blocked content. What is meant by “alternative” is unclear. However, this lays the grounds to implement oppressive policies spanning from the violation of individual rights and freedom, to ultimately blocking all access to the Internet.
- The Report on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, ratified by the U.N. Human Rights Council, defines access to the Internet as a fundamental human right.
Unfortunately, this right is not freely exercised in our country. In fact, the U.N. report has stated that the currently effective Law 5651 in Turkey is a regulation that violates the freedom of opinion and expression. Instead of lifting the barriers of access to the Internet, the government wants to step up its restrictions.
- Censorship is the prohibition of all or part of any printed or digital publication that a ruling party deems “inconvenient” for the sake of “public interest.” The Internet is one of the domains most heavily subjected to the AKP government’s censorship. The government’s so-called filtering practice and the Internet laws it wants to introduce are in fact strong censorship practices created under the pretext of “ensuring moral security.”
- Oppressive and authoritarian regimes restrict Internet use through laws and other regulations.
Becoming more and more authoritarian, the AKP government aims to totally block out all opposing movements, from those spread through social media to those found in comic books. The AKP’s approach toward the Internet is built on censorship, surveillance, oppression and control mechanisms.