Right after the graft probe against the AKP government started and phone conversations of alleged corruption of ministers and by then prime minister Erdoğan and their family members were leaked on the internet with unknown sources, government drafted a censorship update on the already draconian internet regulations law, 5651. The update came as a shock when many people thought “they can not possibly take this any further”. The updated version of the bill suggested that the telecommunications authority (TIB) would store all traffic data as to which websites a user browses and how long time is passed, as well as the right to block access to a website in four hours after the complaint is filed, without court order. Constitutional Court of Turkey has ruled that this is unconstitutional and the law update is now cancelled stripping the TIB and secret service, national intelligence agency (MIT) of its unjust authority to carry out unlimited and unwarranted surveillance and censorship.
Ministers come in defense of censorship and surveillance
Right after the constitutional court declared the censorship, surveillance and profiling law is a violation of rights, government ministers came forward to cite the national security risks of not carrying out mass-surveillance of citizens. Minister of Interior Efkan Ala reacted against the court decision stating that the government keeps balance of security and freedom and has to keep in mind that national security is at stake, thus defending censorship and surveillance. Minister of communications Lutfi Elvan also named his reaction to court decision claiming that the bill as it was did not constitute censorship but was seeking national security on the internet where cyber-crimes prevailed through digital publications. Minister Elvan also stated “European countries also keep personal data between 6 months and 2 years in a central location, and there is public guarantee that these data would not be used for purposes other than security and would not be shared with non-state organs.”
When the censorship and surveillance bill was first passed and was awaiting President Gül’s approval, there were campaigns against it and street protests were organized with the participation of dozens of thousands of people. Internetophiles declared that they do not recognize this censorship and called this the death of internet. Opposition parties also protested against this violation of free speech and right to acquire information, thus had applied to constitutional court for cancellation. All the reactions seem to have worked well.
Illegal Eavesdropping on Ministers
Minister Elvan proposed that TIB is responsible for the wiretapping scandal that revealed the biggest governmental corruption in history. Even though the ministers use phone devices that are encrypted by the national intelligence agency and TIB would have to go through weeks/months of processing to break the encryption, it is TIB that took the hit in this leakage.
Not long after the scandal became public, the intention to dissolve TIB and give all its authority to MIT and to centralize all surveillance mechanisms was brought to agenda. By then Prime Minister, Erdoğan had said “MIT is already responsible for such actions as we give to TIB, why have two bodies doing the same thing.” and paved the way to creation of digital gestapo in the country.
Currently, TIB is keeping track of all telecommunications data in the country, without the possibility of deletion of cached information. So, all the calling and messaging data between all users in Turkey are available; or better put it as “was” available until TIB got raided and servers were confiscated for investigation by MIT.
“I am increasingly against the Internet every day”
Internet is still seen as a destructive device by Turkish authorities. Previously it was “waste of time” and then social media was declared as “menace to society”… Now, President Erdoğan has a new statement that brought many reactions from the internetophiles; “I am increasingly against the Internet every day.” In many occasions he has stated his concern over use of freedoms, although it is usually the freedom of his opponents that he is concerned about. As long as all critical and opposition voices are under extreme pressure in Turkey, there would not be any concern over freedoms and liberties. Perhaps this has some kind of connection with the First Lady Emine Erdoğan’s speech at anti-addiction week, claiming that internet is as dangerous as drug abuse.
The low understanding of freedoms and liberties continue to be the most obvious problem in Turkey, which according to government supporters is doing a great job suppressing critical voices for the sake of economical development and triumph of “national will” over citizens.
As might be remembered, in recent days critical newsportals have been raided by police and were asked to remove articles criticizing the government, or else they would be blocked access to. At a meeting with a joint delegation from the Committee to Protect Journalists and the International Press Institute, President Erdoğan said “Media should never have been given the liberty to insult” regarding the journalists’ approach to developments in Turkey.
“Journalists should resist!”
Chairperson of the Constitutional Court Haşim Kılıç is partly responsible for the cancellation of the censorship and surveillance law. He was also one of the people who met the IPI and CPJ delegations, and said “There is an atmosphere of fear at the moment, the journalists must resist against it and not give in. Currently what worries me most is the hate and revenge atmosphere prevailing in the country, the political institutions are responsible for this. This will change with the calming of tensions. There needs to be struggle in basic rights and liberties, thus journalists need to resist as well.”