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Draft bill threatens Internet freedom in Turkey

Sergey Galyonkin/Flickr

By Elif Akgül

Bianet interviewed Serhat Koç – a telecommunications lawyer and spokesman for the Turkey's Pirate Party – about Draft Bill No 5651 on internet services in Turkey.

"If the draft [bill is] implemented, life will be harder for internet users in Turkey. Censorship of citizen journalism, scientific research and social media will be routine," he said.

He also added that new institutions will allow the authorities to implement censorship at skyrocket speed. "Due to censorship, service providers will enhance their automatic censorship mechanisms, and alternative methods, like changing your DNS [Doman Name System] will no longer work,” he added.

Bill increases the likelihood of censorship

What is new about the aforementioned bill?

A revised proposal of Law 5651 has been added to the current law proposal. The new version envisions more grave censorship practices. Even the current bill causes several issues regarding internet censorship and press freedom. Instead of improving the bill, the new version tends to worsen the mechanisms of censorship.

On the other hand, the draft bill also includes revisions on hate speech. Is the draft really bad as it sounds?

The draft bill also puts hate speech in the category of an internet ban. This is maybe the most problematic aspect of the bill, because the Turkish Penal Code interprets hate speech towards "Islam, Muslims, Turkish-ness [and the] Sunni sect". As a result, we observe cases like the ones of Fazıl Say and Sevan Nişanyan who have been convicted of charges related to freedom of expression. Websites like yenidonem.com (newera.com) are closed down. Even though hate speech is important, I am pretty skeptical about how it will be interpreted on the internet. Many websites might be closed down because of this.

What else is in there?

The new draft compels judges to respond to internet-based "right violations complaints" within 24 hours. Considering that most of our judges have little idea about the internet, it is highly doubtful how they will make their decisions. We have faith in them! It is also up to the İnternet Geliştirme Kurulu (Internet Improvement Institution) to decide on situations like monitoring, restriction, application or inspection. It is something like the National Security Agency in the U.S. It will also enable ministers and telecommunication authorities to be compatible on giving internet censorship orders directly.

Changing the DNS will not work

What are IPs and URLs? What are the consequences for regular users?

The old measures envisioned restrictions for "problematic" content. The new draft will envision bans on URLs which are entirely website-based. It will also accept IP-based censorship. Previously, some websites were out of reach even though they were not banned. It is similar to that.

In addition to that, changing one's DNS will not work in order to have access to websites, because access providers will be required to submit all information regarding anti-censorship techniques to telecommunications authorities.

URL-based restriction/monitoring/saving towards the entire content is also something new about the draft law. This will slow down the internet traffic for Turkey and cause confidentiality breaches of personal data.

Paving the way for censorship and automatic censorship

How will the bill affect service providers like Google, Facebook and Twitter?

Inspecting all internet actors severely and censuring them will push internet actors to run their automatic censorship mechanisms. According to that, all providers will be required to take all sorts of "protective measures” even though there is no evident crime. The draft envisions Erişim Sağlayıcılar Birliği (Access Providers Union).

What is that?

According to the draft bill, access restriction decisions will be sent to the union and complaints to the union will be considered made to service providers. It will be mandatory to join the union, as the draft bill envisions penalties for not joining. The union will have to take all censorship demands into effect within 4 hours.

What should be done? What do you recommend?

Instead of implementing decisions on access restrictions, a new decision-making mechanism must be formed according to internet democracy. Access restrictions based on IP and URL must not be accepted at all and restricting access must be the "last option".

The bill must never allow judges to restrict access within 24 hours or push service providers to implement changes within 4 hours. These are ultra-fast automatic censorship mechanisms.

Just like the addendum on hate speech, the first draft must not include an enlarging of catalog crimes. These crimes must be reduced, and all must be removed including obscenity.

In no democratic country can you accept ministers and telecommunication authorities to be compatible on giving internet censorship orders directly. The draft also envisions the Erişim Sağlayıcılar Birliği (Access Providers Union) which is likely to turn into a center for censorship. This can't be accepted. In order to say "no" to censorship, we are taking action on twitter, under the hashtag #SansüreHayırDe (SayNoToCensorship). In one of the latest discussions, people were planning mass protests, like taking to the streets and canceling their internet subscriptions or not paying their bills.

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