Another article I contributed :
Turkey has announced measures to “protect families” from pornographic content. But civil society was quick to criticise what it saw as disguised Internet censorship and illegal or even “ridiculous” practices. EurActiv Turkey reports.
The country’s Council of Information and Communication Technology (TIB) prepared a new regulation on the ‘Use of the Internet Safety Rules and Procedures’, which is expected to enter into force on 22 August 2011.
This new regulation will force all Internet users to choose from one of four filter options operated by their server provider. The four options are “family”, “children”, “domestic” and “standard” packages.
Government officials say this new regulation is needed to protect families, particularly children, from pornographic content. But critics insist that it is not clear which websites can be banned and for what reasons, nor is it clear how this technical novelty will be operated.
Strange key words
The Turkish authorities have also presented Internet service providers and website-hosting companies with a list of 138 keywords that are to be banned from the Internet in Turkey. The list was sent out on 27 April and contains what journalists described as “ridiculous keywords”, like ‘Adrianne’ and ‘Haydar’ or everyday terms such as ‘free’, ‘pic’, ‘fat’ and ‘pregnan”.
According to the directive, access to websites containing words from the list would in theory be suspended and it would be impossible to create new ones that contain them. However, it is not clear how and to what extent the directive will be implemented in practice.
“Ridiculous practices without any legal basis are being introduced in Turkey. Officials are trying to take Internet users from all ages under control through practices disguised as ‘protection of minors’. By the means of filters and bans, a fundamental [block] of Internet censorship has been established,” said Yaman Akdeniz, a professor of Internet law at Bilgi University, in an interview with EurActiv Turkey.
Professor Akdeniz added: “Turkey’s Internet policies are becoming more and more in compliance with those of China, rather than the EU.”
“With this regulation government will develop a censorship infrastructure. Even the standard profile is a filter system. There are no other countries within the EU or Council of Europe that has a similar system. And the decision also states that if anyone who tries to circumvent the system, further action may be taken,” the professor said.
“Thousands of websites have been blocked in Turkey. Although the government claims that it only blocks access to pornographic websites, hundreds of alternative media websites, especially websites dealing with the Kurdish debate are also blocked for political reasons,” he continued.
The news portal Bianet.org also criticises the government for establishing new measures by decree, rather than by a vote in parliament, and is challenging the new controls in court. Web freedom is a concern within the European Union, which Turkey is seeking to join.
Tayfun Acerer, head of the Information Technologies and Communications Authority (BTK), held a press conference to counter the harsh reactions.
“The new Internet content-filtering packages will only limit access to websites that users specify. The users who want to access the web freely have the option to select ‘standard package’,” explained Acerer.
However, activists and Internet users do not seem to be satisfied with Acerer’s statement. Protests against Internet censorship are being organised in several cities and are expected to take place simultaneously on 15 May.
Lawyer Ayşe Altıparmak is quoted as saying by bianet.org, a Turkish independent media portal, that the EU of which Turkey hopes to become a member should encourage self-control instead of legal measures to protect children from groups that might be harmful to them.
“Therefore, member states should encourage homes, schools and Internet cafés to use filter programmes but filter attempts on the level of state should be avoided by any means,” Altıparmak said.
Kader Sevinç, the Brussels representative of Turkey’s opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), commented:
“Turkey has a partial experience of free press since the days of First World War. During the 20th Century, the freedom of the press has been the general rule but unfortunately always with restrictions, because of the Cold War context and authoritarian instincts of the domestic politics.”
Now that Turkey is an EU candidate country that is “fulfilling sufficiently the Copenhagen political criteria,” it is sad that new problems of freedom of the press and Internet have emerged in recent years, he said.
As a social democratic party, CHP believes that these problems are just a dimension of a broader problem: increasing authoritarianism and fear of losing the power, which implies the end of deep financial profit networks and political favoritism.
“As for the Internet, we are also concerned that actual restrictive policies may hide ideological dogmas,” Sevinç said, adding: “The CHP proposes a comprehensive review of the actual laws affecting the freedom of expression, press and Internet fully in harmony with EU standards.”