Due to legal obstacles to prohibiting social-media sharing by political dissidents in Turkey, the government has a new strategy: to act as Internet pirates. Much different than the political pirate movement, Turkey will now try to hack into ISPs’ systems and surveil users’ browsing/sharing habits. With this aim, recently the Internet watchdog sent a “secret orders” memo to ISPs, to prepare the software infrastructure necessary for detecting users that share unwanted content on social-media platforms. The daily Taraf’s article by Tunca Öğreten reveals the government’s plans to intervene in Internet users’ privacy and basic freedoms yet again.
The method for intervening between the user agreement which secures the user’s privacy regarding the service s/he signs up for is to hack into the HTTPS protocol and surveil user habits. The government’s request from ISSs to establish a bug that will work as spyware is planned to enable browsing all users’ behavior and data without their consent. This includes not only the content of social media updates a person shares but also the e-trade flow and all related data; and the system is planned to be open for immediate interventions.
ISPs will be declared guilty, not the State
Taraf writes that an ISP manager who does not want to share his name states that s/he has tried telling the TIB authorities that the HTTPS security protocol breach is unlawful and a crime, yet the Internet watchdog still wants to carry on with the spying plans. The blunt answer from TIB is “There are countries that are able to breach HTTPS traffic; figure it out and do the same.” ISPs state that this is going to be a major violation of human rights and will create security risks. However the strangest part may be that TIB does not install this system on its own; it asks private companies to do it. When it becomes possible to intervene in banking processes and millions of users’ accounts get drained, the Internet watchdog that is probably after political surveillance and censorship will not even be responsible for causing a crash in the economy. On the other hand, the Internet regulations bill that was updated last January allows such applications, since the law is not clear as to how the State will block access to certain content.
Putting Students under Pressure
Another new regulation regarding the use of the Internet is being prepared to put more pressure on the most vibrant protest group in the country: students. In a country where distribution of wealth is quite uneven, millions of students are urged to live in state-run dormitories. However, with the new regulations, if a student criticizes government policies or complains of conditions in universities/dormitories, that student will be kicked out. In case of a mass protest at a university or a dormitory, the Minister for Youth will be allowed to close down the dormitories for a time as he sees fit.
Most Censored Content in Turkey?
Recently an article on Bianet revealed that the most censored content in Turkey are political messages on Twitter. With 14 accounts and their over 5,000 tweets (along with 500,000 follower statistics) suspended geographically only in Turkey, government criticism is limited on Twitter. The non-political Twitter accounts, that are suspended, vary from those that leak information about the military and those that have sexual content (partner-finding networks). A total of hundreds of thousands of tweets in the end do not get audience in the users in Turkey that do not have VPN, TOR or use proxy servers. The most intriguing part of the censorship is that the most rapidly handled accounts are those that leak information about the government’s alleged corruption involving hundreds of billions of euros. Of course a global corporation like Twitter cannot be trusted to respect people’s freedom of speech or right to acquire knowledge, and with this decision to suppress political criticism and information leaks Twitter has sent a clear message to those who use it for all kinds of political communications.
For comparison, perhaps it might be effective to see Twitter’s or the Turkish government’s response to online hate speech or the abatement of hate crimes. There is none… Neither the government nor Twitter are taking initiatives to combat these problems, and when people are attacked for their identities, in most cases some government official congratulates the perpetrator, or else just nod and approve silently.
Right now Turkey has won yet another gold medal in the censorship Olympics by being the country that has demanded the most content removals from Twitter in the first quarter of 2014. Previously, in 2013, Turkey had won similar gold medals from Google as well as maintaining a notorious relationship with Facebook involving cooperation to suppress digital freedoms.
The new regulations and preparations do not cite what methods will be used to surveil student media and social media. However, in certain crowds parallels are being drawn between real-time censorship, interventions and surveillance, and the recently revealed NetClean software purchase.