Parliament commission passes bill granting excessive power to Turkey's intel body
AA PhotoParliament’s Internal Affairs Commission has shrugged off strong criticism from the public and opposition parties to pass a bill that would give the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) expanded powers after lengthy discussions on Feb. 23.
MİT will have the authority to access the databases of banks and all kinds of other economy-related institutions, which has raised concerns particularly among business circles that would end business secrecy and privacy. In an effort to pacify some of the anger against the bill, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) said only databases “related to MİT’s duties” would be included in the scope of the proposal.
The spy agency will also have the authority to use the data processing centers of these institutions, as well as their communication infrastructure. The body will be able to collect data related to foreign intelligence, national defense, terrorism, international crimes and cyber security that passes through telecommunication channels. At the same time, it will not be possible to object to any demand for such information from MİT.
In addition, the intelligence body will be able to obtain authorization from a single judge at an Ankara criminal court in order to make urgent wiretappings. The current legislation necessitates that judges agree unanimously on any such order.
The AKP, however, was forced to take a few steps back on controversial parts of the proposal, with the intelligence coordination body set to work exclusively under MİT’s undersecretary, as in the current law; in an earlier draft bill, the body was proposed to work exclusively under Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Another proposal was also amended, reducing MİT’s authority to launch operations abroad.
However, since an article that states that “MİT will fulfill all kinds of tasks assigned by the Cabinet, including foreign security, the fight against terrorism and national security,” is still preserved in the bill, such interpretations remain questionable.
Another new motion reduced by three years a maximum 12-year penalty – and three-year minimum penalty – for media bosses, reporters, directors and publishers whose outlets publish intelligence documents, as well as those who disseminate the information.
The bill will also effect an arrangement that would provide a legal framework for ongoing talks between intelligence officers and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The intelligence body will be able to contact all “structures that threaten national security, including terrorist organizations, in the course of its duty.” The law will also produce a legal framework for MİT personnel to meet with prisoners.
A court of serious crimes in Ankara which will be chosen by the Supreme Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) will be authorized to try those charged with personal crimes or with crimes regarding their duties related to their position at MİT.
Erdoğan has indicated that the revelation of the mass wiretapping of thousands of people provides the justification for a bill expanding the powers of the country’s intelligence agency, but the opposition believes the moves could send Turkey down the road to becoming a police state.