Turkey’s Internet question

Turkey’s Internet question

Last week the Turkish Parliament passed legislation that grants a government agency, the Telecommunications Directorate (TİB), the monopoly on Internet regulation. The bill enables TİB to block access to material deemed to violate privacy and personal rights within only four hours and without obtaining a court order. It also requires Internet service providers to store data on their clients’ online activities for two years and provide it to the authorities on request.

The legislation has caused grave concerns that it will limit freedom of expression in the country. It has been widely criticized by the public, the media and domestic and international institutions such as the Turkish Industry and Business Association (TÜSİAD), the State Supervisory Council, the European Union, Amnesty International and the Committee to Protect Journalists. The Human Rights Watch called on President Abdullah Gül to veto the bill, which was submitted to his office last week. Gül has 15 days to approve or veto the law or alternatively send it back to Parliament to be debated again. This week, he raised hopes that he will send it back when he said, “There are some issues with the bill.”

The government, on the other hand, defends the bill, saying it aims to protect the privacy of the people. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan even said it will make the Internet much freer.

There is only one reason behind this ambiguity: The transition we are going through. At first, there were only three branches of the government: namely the legislature, executive and judiciary. In time, the media turned into the fourth branch, balancing the power of the state. Yet, eventually it became another institution incorporated into the system. At that point, the Internet came to the rescue of the individual who was in need of a power to challenge the state. It has shifted the power balance between the state and the individual and provided people with an extraordinary power over the state. What we are witnessing today is nothing but the power struggle between these two powers, the nation-state and the individual.

How a state relates itself to the Internet will substantially affect its status in the 21st century. A state that aims to become a regional power cannot achieve its goal by censoring the Internet. Furthermore, censoring the Internet and intervening in the flow of information has become the new form of censorship, in other words, the biggest violation of freedom of expression in the 21st century.

Moreover, this week Google announced it had developed a program called uProxy which gives people the tools to avoid censorship all over the world. Hence, taking tighter security precautions serves no purpose. It would only make a state more introverted. This would, in turn, substantially diminish its connection and communication with the world and its sphere of influence.

Not to mention, violating privacy and personal rights is not freedom. Yet, if one wants to try to prevent it, being more inclusive and democratic is the only way. The bill needs to be revised in such a manner.