New legal amendments in Turkey threaten even greater web censorship

Douglas Crawford

Douglas Crawford

January 27, 2014

turkey-flag-mapAt present, Turkey is still a wonderful country for tourists, but it is becoming an increasingly difficult place for its citizens. You wouldn’t want to be a writer, journalist, translator, publisher, human rights activist, democrat, thinking person, or anyone who seeks justice in “my!” country,’ – Tarik Gunersel, president of PEN Turkey, a global human rights and literary organization, now under investigation for ‘insulting the state’.

Freedom of expression on the internet in Turkey has been under attack since 2007, with an increasingly large number of websites being blocked. Most blocked content has involved Kurdish nationalism (including news regarding the PKK separatist movement), pornography, homosexuality, criticism of Islam, and criticism of modern Turkey’s founding father, Kemal Atatürk.

Many keywords are banned on pornographic grounds from search results which are used in normal conversations, including Pic, Pregnant, Animals, Skirt, Free and sister-in-law. More than 6000 websites have been blocked by the censors and the courts, including YouTube and parts of Google (now re-instated), but things are set to get even worse

Revised proposal to Law 5651

First passed in 2007, Law 5651 is already regarded by free speech advocates as problematic, as it allows websites to be blocked Turkey’s internet regulator, the High Council for Telcomunications (TIB) based on complains by individuals who feel that their rights have been violated, allowing them to request that the site or its host remove the incriminated content. Decisions made by TIB are arbitrary, not subject to appeal, and as of 26 January 2014 have been used to block 40,482 websites.

Recent accusations by the press of government corruption have led to increased harassment of journalists, and are likely a prime motive for amending Law 5651, which classifies ‘hate speech’ under the internet ban, and compels courts to respond to internet-based ‘right violations complaints’ within 24 hours without a regular trial (up until now citizens claiming their privacy had been violated had to contact the website administrators first, and then wait for 2 days until they could go to court).

If websites do not remove content requested by the courts within 4 hours they will be fined and the content blocked by TIB within 72 hours, and all ISPs will be required to join a union charged with ensuring that the censorship measures are carried out. Not only is this likely to lead to a high degree of self-censorship, but because what constitutes ‘hate speech’ has not been defined, sentences are likely to be highly subjective.

The new changes to Law 5651 have met been with opposition from a wide range of organizations, such the Turkish Pirate Party and Alternative Informatics Association, academics, journalists and the business organization TÜSİAD. Serhat Koç a telecommunications lawyer and spokesman for the  Pirate Party stated that,

If the draft [bill is] implemented, life will harder for internet users in Turkey. Censorship of citizen journalism, scientific research and social media will be routine.

Fortunately internet users in Turkey can use VPN services (based outside of Turkey) to evade censorship restrictions, but it is very sad that such measures are necessary.

Douglas Crawford

I am a freelance writer, technology enthusiast, and lover of life who enjoys spinning words and sharing knowledge for a living. You can now follow me on Twitter - @douglasjcrawf.

2 responses to “New legal amendments in Turkey threaten even greater web censorship

  1. Hi Douglas,
    I read this article with interest, because of the legal ‘issues’ popping up in Turkey.
    I was wondering, and wanted to ask you: Can a government block access to a VPN service? I am going to sign up for one, but don’t want to spend money if my access even to the service will be blocked.
    Thank you for your time.

    1. Hi Andy,

      The best example we have of a government trying to block VPN is China. We discuss how this works and how effective it appears to be in some detail towards the end of this ( article. Basically, it is fairly easy for a government to put simple blocks on VPN (filtering ports commonly used for VPN, and packet sniffing to determine whether VPN protocols are being used for example), but there are also many measures that can be taken to evade such blocks, such as routing OpenVPN traffic through TCP port 443, routing VPN through SSH or SSL tunnels, or using Obfsproxy (a solution favored by many VPN providers who specialize in offering services to China). In short, its a cat and mouse game, but the bottom line is that it is very difficult a government to block VPN.

      As for Turkey, it takes massive amounts of infrastructure to even attempt such a block, so in even a worse-case scenario it will not happen for years.

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