New Turkey further tightens Internet control

New Turkey further tightens Internet control

Turkey’s 62nd government led by Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu officially took office after it received the vote of confidence from Parliament on Sept. 6. This marked the end of a month-long effort to shape the new political structure following Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s election as Turkey’s new president. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) concluded what could have been a difficult process for any political party without any major problems, launching a new era as “the making of new Turkey.”

As stated in the government program, the new Turkey will observe "advanced democratic norms" with continuous reforms in line with the AKP’s vision of making it one of the top 10 leading countries in the world by 2023. The program outlines in detail the motivation necessary to accomplish this objective and the economic, social, and political steps that need to be taken.

In the meantime, the appointment of former ambassador and an expert on EU affairs, Volkan Bozkır as the EU Minister and Chief Negotiator has also been welcomed by many, including this columnist.

Describing the EU membership as a “strategic target” is also very important as the pace of talks has slowed down in recent years due to problems erupting from both sides.

The foreign policy team made of Prime Minister Davutoğlu, former foreign minister who built almost all his career in the field of international relations; his successor Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu who has deep knowledge on EU issues and a vast network among European politicians, as well as Volkan Bozkır, is really strong and has the capacity to give an impetus to Turkey’s EU process.

However, it’s obvious that it is time for the government to prove its sincerity through concrete actions. Unfortunately not in the way it did late Sept. 8.

According to a draft law, the government has granted authority to the Telecommunication Transmission Directorate (TİB) to monitor Internet users, block websites and their content without permission from the Courts. The head of the directorate will have the right to block websites in order to "protect national security and public order," as well as to prevent crime, but will have to seek a legal framework only after shutting down the website.  

In addition, the TİB will be responsible for storing the browsing history of web users and the entire web traffic, so that it can speedily hand over the necessary information to relevant institutions in the event of a court order or a criminal investigation.

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.

What makes the situation even more grave is the fact that the government is planning to subordinate the TİB to the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), meaning that the right to communicate and the right to privacy will be put under critical threat. It’s also ironic that the furthering of Internet control comes a few days after Turkey hosted the Internet Governance Forum, a global platform that has been working on how to expand global Internet use, as well as finding ways of making it more affordable.

The new Turkey should not be a place where people’s freedom of communication and right to privacy are under the surveillance of the government.