The establishment of the civil registries dates back to the first population census conducted in 1904 during the last years of the Ottoman Empire.
The proclamation of the Republic of Turkish in 1923, however, brought significant changes to the way civil registries are maintained. In 1928, following the acceptance of the Latin alphabet, Arabic letters and numbers were abandoned in the maintenance of the registries. In 1934, last names were granted to each family and individual, abolishing the practice of appellations. It was not until 1972, however, when the introduction of Law No. 1543 and its successor Law No. 1587 paved the way for the modernization of the civil registration system in Turkey. Since 1972 Turkish authorities have been trying to do it better.
However, with each new piece of legislation and each new method, new problems arise. We are still far from perfection. The last change in how we keep our records was in 2000 with the introduction of the Central Civil Registration System (MERNIS). MERNIS is a centrally administered system where any changes in civil status are registered electronically in real time over a secure network by the 966 civil registration offices spread throughout the country. The information kept in the central database is shared with the public and private agencies for administrative purposes.
The system works very well. The bureaucracy has really been diminished. In that sense MERNIS is one of the most successful state projects of all time. However, with MERNIS, the private information of Turkish citizens’ became available to many.
It is a public knowledge that Turkish citizens’ private information is very public. It was back in the mid-2000s that police recovered thousands of CDs filled with all Turkish people’s information that were sold to anyone who is willing to pay 300 Turkish Liras. It was understood that the engineers who worked on the project leaked the information. After that Turkish people began receiving calls from telemarketers who knew everything about them, even their mother’s maiden names and current addresses. When asked how they could have such information, all answered that they got it from Turk Telekom.
The last blow to our private information came with the latest Anonymous attack called operation Digiturk.
The servers of the institution that is responsible for keeping the telecom operators’ information about their users was attacked. Anonymous leaked thousands of people’s information and published all of them. This is the message from Anonymous:
“My dear brothers and sisters. It is high time to keep your eyes open. It is high time to demand justice. The Internet should be a platform where ideas are told unhampered. The Internet should be a platform which is far from authority’s interference. The Internet is everyone’s right. It is time to fight for free Internet…
“Digiturk, who is responsible for blocking Blogger.com, inci.sozlukspot.com and over 10,000 websites, has become an Internet terrorist. The victims were not warned and did not even have the right to a defense. Digiturk has removed Anonymous’ message video on youTube.com due to copyrights.”
There is an amazing lack of security in public institutions toward digital information. The reason is beyond me as Turkish hackers are notorious around the globe. Why the government doesn’t get help from them is a question that remains unanswered.