Over the last decade, the Turkish government has instituted a series of increasingly problematic internet laws which, according to watchdogs, have given Ankara greater and greater control over online activity (Reporters Without Borders, which ranks Turkey 154th out of 179 in its "Press Freedom" index, has a good primer on the country's internet laws, here).
In recent weeks, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has been fighting off a major graft case that has targeted now former ministers and several businessmen close to the government, has proposed new internet legislation that has raised even more concern and that led to a large protest this past Saturday in Istanbul's Taksim Square which was broken up by police using water cannons and tear gas.
To get a bit more background on the new law, I reached out to Yaman Akdeniz, a professor of law at Istanbul's Bilgi University and a leading expert on Turkey's internet laws. Below is our exchange:
Can you describe some of the more troubling aspects of this latest internet law?
Law 5651 was introduced back in 2007 to protect children from so called harmful content. This particular law with its extensive blocking measures has been criticized as a tool for censorship and has been found in breach of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights by the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Ahmet Yildirim v. Turkey. Rather than amending the law and complying with the European Court decision the government has introduced further restrictive measures and Law 5651 will from now and on be used for political reasons to block access to so called damaging videos or to block access to leaked documents. I believe Gezi protests and the recent corruption investigations are the driving force behind these rushed amendments.
Turkish officials already had the power to ban access to websites without court order — how does this law differ from previous ones?
Article 8 of Law No 5651 provided a strict criteria for blocking access to specific types of content. The amendments extend that to violation of personal rights as well as violation of privacy. Furthermore, URL based removal and blocking orders are included in the amendments as well as the formation of an Association of Internet Access Providers to centrally manage the blocking orders. Membership to the Association is required and forced by law for all Internet Access Providers in Turkey. Those who choose not to become a member will no longer be able to be in the access business.
Why did this legislation appear now? Is it part of the recent domestic political strife in Turkey?
It is definitely a knee-jerk reaction to Gezi protests and the extensive use of the social media platforms during the protests as well as a response to recent corruption investigations, with the new law designed to control the distribution of potentially damaging videos as well as leaked document related to the corruption investigations.
If this law passes, where would you place Turkey in the world in terms of internet control?
Turkey is moving away from the European Union in terms of not only its Internet related policies but also with regards to due process principles and the independency of its judiciary. Everything is about to be controlled by the government and unfortunately Internet is no exception. Turkey's motives to control the Internet has therefore become political and does not comply with international human rights standards.
If you were to take stock of the last decade of internet laws in Turkey, what’s the story they tell us?
A huge desire to control the Internet and social media platforms is evident. In fact what needs to be seen as a boon to society is often seen as a menace to society in Turkey. When I look back, all I can think about is blocking access to approximately 40,000 websites since 2007, formation of a home based filtering system, extensive filtering taking place through Internet cafes, and a considerable number of criminal investigations and prosecutions taking place in relation to Internet content from Turkey in the last few years. It’s a political control approach that is similar to that of China, Iran and Syria.