Turkish gov't rushes Internet censor bill as phone recordings fly around

Turkish gov't rushes Internet censor bill as phone recordings fly around

Despite criticism from the opposition, the Internet community, international organizations and the public, the Justice and Development Party (AKP)-dominated Parliament continues to debate an omnibus bill that will bring broad restrictions to the Internet.

The articles, which were “stuffed” by ruling party lawmakers during the commission stage of a law from the Family and Social Policies Ministry, ostensibly aim to protect individual rights and the right to private life. However, almost everybody else see the planned changes as a move to censor materials on the Internet.

The draft bill includes many obscure articles. For example, Internet service providers, as well as cafes and restaurants offering wi-fi services to their customers, will be required to keep user information for months, which will require serious investment in infrastructure.

But the main issue as far as the government is concerned is the practice of leaking illegal phone recordings to the Internet, which has gained pace since a graft probe was launched against ministers, their relatives and businessmen doing work with the state. The latest phone recordings, made public by the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), allegedly reveal the government pressure on some businessmen to collect 650 million Turkish Liras to buy the Sabah newspaper and the ATV television from the Çalık Group.

The bureaucracy’s reaction to those revelations gave a glimpse of how the Internet will be controlled by the state if the bill goes into effect. When CHP deputy leader Umut Oran voiced the allegations on the Sabah/ATV sale in a parliamentary question addressed to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s Internet watchdog, the Telecommunications Directorate (TİB), sent a “warning” to news websites to remove the story on the parliamentary question. Oran was also notified officially that he should remove the question from his personal website.

The TİB and Transportation and Communications Minister Lütfi Elvan later said the notices were sent as a result of a “mistake.” But the new regulations give such an authority to the TİB: to block access to any web page without a prosecutor’s demand or court decision when “individual privacy is violated.”

While a law to protect individual data has been waiting to be debated in Parliament since it was introduced in 2008, the government is hurrying for wider control of the Internet before the leaked conversations do any more harm.

Despite the government’s and ruling party’s complaints about illegal recordings and leaks, they feel free to use such documents targeting their opponents, just as they did in similar cases in the past.

Prime Minister Erdoğan and many other AKP officials have been attacking the Fethullah Gülen Movement on issues that were made public in the phone recordings between the Movement members that leaked online.

I have no doubts about the prime minister’s respect for democracy, a practice which he believes starts and ends on election days. In fact, PM Erdoğan gives so much importance to the ballot box that he said the local election results, not the courts, would decide whether the ruling party was involved in corruption.

“If people choose us as the first party once again, it will mean that this government is honest,” he said on Dec. 3 in Berlin.

If approved in Parliament, which will happen as the AKP holds the majority, the bill will be sent to President Abdullah Gül, who told reporters last week that he has a “libertarian” stance when it comes to the Internet. President Gül has the constitutional right to veto a bill and send it to Parliament to be discussed again, but he has avoided using such authority in the past, even in the most controversial issues such as the educational reform. An exception for the Internet censorship law is highly unlikely.