New measures can have a website blocked in hours and without due process
Turkish parliamentarians have signed off on fresh Internet controls that could have an impact on internet gambling websites.
Opposition is already mounting to the new laws, which enable websites to be quickly blocked by the authorities without due judicial procedures and checks. The measure also permits authorities to record and keep individuals' browsing histories for up to two years.
The Reuters news agency reports that there have been opposition accusations that the government's motivation is to stifle growing criticism on a corruption scandal rocking the country.
"Social media and video sharing sites have been awash with alleged recordings of ministers including Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and business allies presented as proof of wrongdoing. Reuters has been unable to verify their authenticity," the news agency reported Thursday.
The government claims that its internet reforms are aimed at protecting individual privacy, and not gagging its critics. And it notes that under the new law, decisions to remove material taken by the telecoms authority will be subject to judicial review within 24 hours, with the authorities having a right of appeal following that.
The new measure – passed in parliament on Wednesday this week – allows telecommunications authorities to block access to material within four hours without a prior court order, tightening restrictions imposed in an already widely criticised law adopted in 2007.
The 2007 legislation specifies "unauthorised gambling" among the many subjects it regards as taboo, including any insult to Turkey's founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
Umut Oran, a deputy from the main opposition CHP, told the general assembly this week: "This is against the constitution. Bans like this exist in times of coups and have not been able to conceal any corruption."
Prime Minister Erdogan's critics say his autocratic response to the corruption scandal is further evidence of his authoritarian and anti-democracy approach to governing, which have already caused public demonstrations and raised concerns about stability in the run-up to local and presidential elections this year.
Turkey is currently applying for membership of the European Union, where concerns have also been expressed regarding the corruption scandal and heavy handed government action in dealing with it.
Responding to public censure, Communications Minister Lutfu Elvan claimed that criticism of the new law was based on misinformation. He said that the legislation passed Wednesday was intended to help the authorities quickly block offensive and specific content rather than impose blanket website bans.
"In many European countries [the laws] are much harsher … none of the criticism bears any relation to reality," he said.
President Abdullah Gul has not yet signed the new measure into Turkish law, and opposition calls are growing for him to refuse to do so.
Nils Muiznieks, commissioner for human rights at the Council of Europe, told Reuters that the amendments went in the "opposite direction" to European standards on freedom of expression and of the media.
"The hasty and opaque manner in which these amendments have been pushed through parliament, without any genuine consultation of the major stakeholders, is also regrettable," he said.
Observers on the Turkish internet scene report that the nation already has strict Internet laws under which thousands of websites have been blocked, from news portals viewed as close to Kurdish militants to gay dating sites.
More than 40,000 sites are blocked, according to Turkey's engelliweb.com, which tracks access restrictions.
Almost all internet traffic passes through the infrastructure of Turk Telekom, which is 32 percent state-owned. The organisation has so far declined to comment on the new measures.
Jim Cowie, chief technology officer and founder of Renesys, a U.S.-based firm that carries out real-time analysis of internet routes and traffic and provides intelligence for network companies, told Reuters that the ban would impact investment, and takes Turkey in the direction of Iran and China in terms of tough regulation.
"You can't provide services unless you retain your licence. That gives the government a large degree of control," he said.
"Istanbul is a very logical place to put data centers if you want to serve the whole…Middle East," he told Reuters. "But because of the problems the government has potentially created … you're more likely to go to Budapest or Sofia."
"This proposal … gives the powers of the legislative, executive and judiciary completely to the TIB [the national telecommunications authority], which is turning into an intelligence agency," professors from Istanbul's Bilgi University and Ankara University said this week.
"From the perspective of fundamental rights and freedoms it indicates the start of a period of great darkness," professors Yaman Akdeniz and Kerem Altiparmak wrote.
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