What has happened on the Internet in Turkey in 2012?: “Progress Report””

Prepared by ALTERNATIVE INFORMATICS ASSOCIATION

September 28th, 2012

 

The “progress report” and situation assessment of the internet and social networks in Turkey as of 2012 have been prepared under seven main titles:

  1. The power operations to audit and regulate  social networks
  2. The regulations envisaged to be introduced to ensure that e-ID numbers can be entered on the Internet
  3. Filtering and blocking of the Internet by the Ministry of Health
  4. The breach of the privacy of personal communication by the company, Phorm in Turkey
  5. The hate speech that is on the rise on new social networks
  6. “Safe Internet”, the filtering application put into force by ICTA
  7. Updated information on the websites whose access has been blocked and some punishments applied to social network users

1. The power operations against social networks

Nowadays we see more and more people against whom trials have been initiated and cases have been opened and who have been arrested for their sharing on social networks. In the past, such cases used to be limited to the lawsuits that were brought against the people claimed to have insulted the Prime Minister or Ministers. However, all of a sudden such sharing on social networks started to be taken as “evidence” for criminal charges such as membership of a terrorist organization and insult to “values and beliefs”.  Astronomic penalties are demanded for very young detainees on the grounds that they make propaganda on social networks. The famous Twitter case of Fazıl Say was represented in the international media. While some States call “hacktivist” groups like Anonymous and LulzSec a “cyber threat” in a precautious manner, Red Hack, which is a group of the same kind, is declared to be a “terrorist” organization in a legally disputable way. Moreover, according to some news, a prosecution is likely to be started against several people following Red Hack on Twitter for they are said to be the “sympathizers of a terrorist organization”. Social media sharing is turned into an offence by the new university discipline legislation; people are being arrested for the things they have posted or shared on social networks. Their sharing is turned into “evidence”, which is completely strange from legal perspective. Using social networks is nearly coded as a terrorist activity.  Why is that so? It is because the power has no tolerance of the media that it cannot control. The mainstream media are under a serious pressure. Turkey ranks number one all over the world in terms of the number or journalists under arrest. Social media, on the other hand, have already proved to be an alternative in many events. That’s the reason why prosecutions are started against opponent discourses and people are being taken under detention to set an “example”. Whether or not the detentions are eventually turned into imprisonment, an operation of fear has been initiated with de facto punishment acts and users are obliged to apply auto-censor.  The government, which does not find these operations of fear sufficient, has already started to get ready for applying instant and temporary censor on social networks.  Binali Yıldırım, the Minister of Transport, Maritime and Communications qualified social media as a threat and said that precautions must be taken. Following this, it was announced by the media that the Ministry and ICTA would apply instant censor on social networks. Subsequent to the serious reactions, the Ministry denied the allegations with a written and official letter. Yet, those who have been following the government’s attempts about social networks for some time were not contended with this denial. As a matter of fact, this issue has not been closed yet in spite of the denial, and the discussions are still continuing on social networks.  The general impression is that the government is trying to measure the reactions and is continuing to work on this issue. In fact, any censorship to be applied on the sly requires the cooperation of the company concerned.  For the time being, censor is partially applied by blocking certain topics in the “Trend Topic” list of Turkey. A real censor would necessitate the blockage of access to social networks such as Twitter and Facebook, but that could only be the last remedy as the reactions against such a censor would be fierce. Then, what could “instant blocking” possibly be ? According a possible scenario, access to popular social networks can temporarily be denied right after a “sensitive” event and until that event is forgotten. Such a blockage may even be reflected as a “technical problem”. In any case, Internet access is provided by TTNet, a monopole that the government can control. The existence of such a monopole can be justified with a simple regulation to be based on Anti-Terror Law, which is anti-democratic. The fear operations that force social network users to apply auto-censor as well as the government’s censor projects targeting such alternative information media are a clear violation of the freedom of expression, which is protected by our Constitution and the international conventions we have signed.

2. The regulations envisaged to be introduced to ensure that e-ID numbers can be entered on the Internet

The party in power has been dreaming of following and blacklisting Internet users for a long time by making it obligatory to enter ID number and a password to access the Internet. Such applications are already in force in countries like China, Saudi Arabia, North Korea and Iran. However, the projects violating privacy are not even put on the agenda in the USA and European countries where people do not have to carry or submit their ID cards. This project was first shared by Rıfat Sait, Izmir Deputy of AKP (The Party of Development and Justice). He said he would submit a law proposal on the “increase of Internet crimes” and obligation of ID number/password. (http://www.ntvmsnbc.com/id/25370093/). Afterwards, we were informed that a commission had been established under General Directorate of Security upon the instruction of the Prime Minister. This commission is said to be working on a similar plan which would treat all citizens as if they were potential criminals with the purpose of “preventing cyber-crimes”.   (http://www.ntvturk.com/ntv-teknoloji/10958-internete-tc-kimlik-numarasi-ve-sifreyle-girilsin.html). The commission’s “Draft Law on the Regulation of Informatics Network Services and Informatics Crime” includes other grave proposals: To establish “Internet Monitoring Center”, which had been put on the agenda five years ago but then suspended, under TIB (Telecommunications and Communications Commission) in order to monitor and audit the entire Internet medium; to make it mandatory for service and hosting providers to keep their records for five years, which would mean a further violation of privacy; to oblige “service providers” to intervene in “unfavorable” broadcasting;  to make the punishments about hacking heavier… The proposal that crowns this draft law is “to make it obligatory to enter a password accessing the Internet so that all the operations of Internet users can be recorded”.  Sezgin Tanrıkulu, Istanbul Deputy of CHP (The Republican People’s Party) shared the demand of the General Directorate of Security in the Parliament. This demand aims to prevent informatics crime by making it obligatory to enter a password and ID number in accessing Internet. He also submitted a parliamentary question including rightful detections targeting the Minister of Interior (http://www.yurtgazetesi.com.tr/teknoloji-ve-bilim/chp-kimlik-numarali-interneti-meclise-tasidi-h16504.html). This draft law, which openly violates privacy, private life and the right to be anonymous and institutionalizes the censor on the Internet in a way to eliminate the freedom of expression, information and press, conflicts not only with our Constitution but also with the related regulations of the European Union.

3. Filtering and blocking of the Internet by the Ministry of Health

On September 8th, 2012, turk.internet.com[1]  declared that the Ministry of Health blacklisted about 200 websites for they misinform the public on some health problems such as losing weight, heart diseases and diabetics. The Ministry of Health established cooperation with TIB for filtering throughout this process. Following this, it was announced on September 14th, 2012 that the websites in question that cover some news portals, announcements, promotion campaigns and various digital equipment had been filtered as their content was harmful.[2]

However, this process, which poses a threat to the circulation of information and the freedom of expression, also proves that the public is unaware of the technical difference between blocking and filtering a website. The Ministry of Health and TIB could have uploaded a warning sign on the websites concerned instead of filtering them. Moreover, such warning could have been directed at all citizens whether they use filtering or not. Such an alternative application could have been more effective because it addresses to a larger audience. It could have been more principled in terms of freedom of expression and information flow on the Internet, too.

4. The breach of the privacy of personal communication by the company, Phorm in Turkey

TTNET, which owns the Internet backbone in Turkey and is the biggest Internet Service Provider (ISS) of the country, signed a business agreement in 2012 with the company Phorm, which is listed in London stock exchange. Phorm, which uses DPI (Deep Packet Inspection) technology, has caused a trouble in the countries it has invested in for it leads to breach of personal privacy. This company had to leave the USA as it was revealed that its software products that run on the Internet violate personal privacy. The company is known to have conducted secret experiments on the Internet users by establishing business partnership with big ISSs in the UK in 2006 and 2007. Phorm has drawn the attention of EU upon the revealment of these experiments. The EU opened a case against the UK for the breach of personal privacy. Phorm had to leave the UK and South Korea upon the reactions, but it is still trying to penetrate into the markets like Turkey and Brazil, which it does not find to be sensitive about personal privacy issues. As Alternative Informatics Association, we have started a campaign against this company and its partnership with TTNET:www.enphormasyon.org

The products of Phorm (Apropos, Adware.Webwise) are categorized as “dangerous software” by prestigious anti-virus software companies like F-Secure and Symantec. We demand that the dangerous activities of the company, Phorm be terminated. We think that the internet users in Turkey need support about personal privacy just as those in the EU do.  For further information on this issue:

http://europa.eu/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=IP/09/570

http://www.f-secure.com/weblog/archives/00001420.html

http://www.symantec.com/security_response/writeup.jsp?docid=2008-093010-4206-99&om_rssid=sr-mixedsecurityrisks

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phorm

5. The hate speech that is on the rise on new social networks

The increasing use of social networks causes citizens to share and expand their views on the agenda. Some recent and exemplary cases in Turkey (Van earthquake, Hrant Dink case, attacks in the South East Anatolia, refugee camps established due to the conflicts in Syria) have also proven that such events accelerate the production and circulation of hate speech online. On the other hand, as it is mentioned above and will be detailed below, it is possible to conduct penal prosecutions/investigations for the statements delivered online and in the spaces not regulated by laws, while hate speech against ethnical minorities, different sexual orientations and membership to sects other than the dominant Sunni belief is ignored although the issue of “provoking the public for grudge and hostility” is regulated in the penal code.  The control on the social networks through the instant access denial is justified with sharing on social media. Particularly the Prime Minister’s statement that “There must be regulations against Islam-phobia in Muslim countries” ignores the hate speech in different areas (political hate speech, hate speech against women, foreigners, immigrants, sexual identity, belief and sect- oriented hate speech) (https://yenimedya.wordpress.com/2012/01/20/sosyal-medyanin-nefret-soylemi-icin-kullanilmasi-ifade-ozgurlugu-degildir/). Given that even the existing laws are not completely and properly applied, it is seen that is very difficult and mostly impossible to prevent hate speech through laws.  From this perspective, Internet users must be very well informed about hate speech as well as the limits of democracy and freedom of expression. There is also a need to carry out educational activities in this field. Yet, the government neither gives a place to such issues in the national education system nor finances the non-governmental organizations so that they can organize trainings as required. It should also be noted that hate speech turns into a source of justification as the government wants to introduce prohibitive/impeditive legal regulations in the fields it likes.

Besides, we would like to state that the source and the roots of the hate speech on social networks are in the offline world. For example, when Sırrı Sakık, BDP (Party of Peace and Democracy) lost his son, some Twitter users carelessly produced hate speech with their tweets on the former’s sad day. (http://t24.com.tr/haber/oglunu-kaybeden-sirri-sakika-twitterdan-nefret-soylemi/213151). The reason for the hate speech is the ethnical segregation, discrimination and polarization. Furthermore, the discursive practices of politicians cover and circulate discrimination.

6. “Safe Internet”, the filtering application put into force by ICTA

“Safe Internet”, which is a filtering application, was carried into effect on November 22nd, 2011 by ICTA. This filtering is composed of family&child filtering and standard user options. In this application, the filtering words designated by ICTA are sent to all ISSs. Therefore, the words and websites to which access is prohibited/denied are determined by the State itself.

The application that was brought into effect by the State on November 22nd, 2011 is a central and arbitrary system. It is not transparent at all. That the application is optional does not suppress the fact that the censor is being applied by the State. This application narrows the freedom of expression and imposes one single family/child projection on our citizens. The State can have no responsibility or authority to decide on the websites citizens can access no matter the application is optional/voluntary. Protection of children and family cannot be a justification of the State’s censor. Security is of course the right and need of all citizens including children. However, the filters in question can absolutely not offer a solution to safety issues. Safe Internet use can be ensured not with filters but through digital literacy. A central filtering application is not recommend in any democratic countries. Among the OSCE countries, the only country that allows central filtering is unfortunately Turkey. The countries where filtering is applied by the State are North Korea, China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and alike. In addition, it is not possible to obtain information about how the filtering functions using the right to information act. We need to question on which pedagogic and sociological formation and/or competency the ICTA relies while introducing such prohibitions and restrictions on the freedom of communication. The solicitation to stop the filtering is still subject to a case by the Council of State.

Besides, ICTA has attempted to influence/convince the public opinion as its filtering application has not drawn enough attention. Its purpose is to justify the filtering and make people adopt it without questioning it. At some universities, they have even tried to impose filtering as a useful and exemplary application on faculty members through university senates. Upon this, Alternative Informatics Association launched a signature campaign with a high participation rate. For the signature campaign and list of participants, please see: http://bit.ly/yEafsr

7. Updated information on the websites whose access has been blocked and some punishments applied to social network users

Based on Engelli.web, we can say that currently access to 20.690 websites is blocked. The access denial on these websites can be categorized as follows: (http://engelliweb.com/kategoriler/):

Those blocked by TIB (17471)

Those blocked upon the decision of Court/Prosecution Office (982)

Those without Court Decision (1219)

Those whose access denial is removed (113)

Blocked IP addresses (69)

Blocked WordPress Blogs (26)

Blocked Blogger/Blogspot Blogs (52)

Recently, the Ministry of Transport, Maritime and Communications has started a legal process to block access to URL addresses that cover the video content of the film, Innocence of Muslims.  The Consultancy of Press and Public Relations under the Ministry of Transport, Maritime and Communications has made a written statement and provided information on a study about the denial of access to URL addresses that cover the videos in question without applying access denial to all video sharing websites:  “Access to the videos in question has been denied to a great extent with the intermediation of internet providers. The sensitivity of this issue has been explained in verbal and oral form to the law office of Youtube&Google Inc. in Turkey so that the video content is removed from the URL addresses in question through the “warn-remove” method. The legal process has been initiated so that access to the URL addresses concerned can be denied on the websites that continue broadcasting the film in question”. (http://www.radikal.com.tr/Radikal.aspx?aType=RadikalDetayV3&ArticleID=1101599&CategoryID=77).

The denial of access to such contents and/websites are based on a single/unique ethical understanding. The prohibitions are generally applied in an arbitrary way and for political reasons. Freedom of expression and communication on social networks is violated via a politicized jurisdiction. Those holding opposing views are punished with “arrest” and “imprisonment” using Turkish Penal Code and Anti-Terror Law. The society is thus disciplined. For example, a criminal complaint has been filed against EkşiSözlük writers on the grounds that they insult Islam. An allegation has been made against “Allahcc”, a Twitter user again on the grounds that s/he insults Islam. Criminal complaints have also been filed against some account owners on Facebook as they are alleged to insult the President and Prime Minister. These complaints are filed according to Turkish Penal Code by the Chief Prosecution Office and some   defendants have already been punished at the end of the judgment process. Further examples are as follows:

  1. A recent case concerns the tweets of Fazıl Say, a famous pianist and composer.  It is stated in the bill of indictment prepared on June 1st, 2012 as follows “Mr. Say’s tweets that constitute the subject of the case hurt the feelings of the members of the big tree religions about the concepts that are common to these religions like the God, paradise and hell for no reason and make no contribution to the development of human relations. His tweets cannot be considered as criticism within the freedom of expression. It is decided that he used such concepts to degrade religious values and to form an opinion that these concepts are meaningless, unnecessary and worthless.” The case in question has been opened according to Articles 216/3 and 218/1 of Turkish Penal Code which refers to the crime of “openly degrading religious values that a part of the society has adopted”. Mr. Say is being judged with the solicitation of imprisonment from 9 months to 1,5 year.  (http://bianet.org/bianet/ifade-ozgurlugu/138802-saya-dini-degerler-davasi, Accessed on: 19.06.2012).
  2. Ali C. A, a 52 year old retiree living in Zonguldak  was sentenced to 1 year and 3 months of imprisonment in the case he was judged without arrest on the grounds that he had insulted the President, Abdullah Gül. The Court decided to postpone the declaration of the verdict.  See: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/gundem/21551640.asp
  3. Serdar Tuncer, a TV producer and presenter filed a complaint against @allah (cc) and his/her 200 thousand followers on Twitter. Tuncer alleged that @allah (cc) and his/her followers make fun of Islam and other divine religions, and degrade the believers. The criminal complaint included the following statements “@allah (cc) and his/her followers post tweets that insult and degrade the Islam and Muslims. As the people who believe in Islam, Muslims and divine religions are subject to insult and humiliation due to the acts of suspects, a reaction that may cause public indignation occurs. Therefore, I request by attorney that a public prosecution be started so that the suspects are penalized according to the crime of “Degrading Religious Values” as stated in Article 216/3 of Turkish Penal Code. See: http://bianet.org/bianet/din/135986-allah-cc-ne-yapacak
  4. Mehmet Baransu, the correspondent of the Taraf launched a campaign to close Ekşisözlük on the grounds that the latter insults Islam. See: http://bianet.org/bianet/diger/134185-mehmet-baransunun-eksi-sozluk-kampanyasi
  5. Imprisonment up to 2 years has been solicited for H. Y on the grounds that he insulted the Prime Minister Erdoğan and ministers  by posting an audio, written and visual message while chatting with his/her friends on Facebook.
  6. An administrative investigation has been started against İ.D, a civil servant working at PTT in Zonguldak on grounds that he insulted and degraded statesmen by sharing news and caricatures against the Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the government. İ.D was subject to “wage deduction” and deprived of “advance by echelon” and then appointed to Ordu. In addition to the administrative investigation, a complaint was filed to the Public Prosecution Office on the grounds that he insulted statesmen.

We would like to submit our “progress report” on the situation of the Internet and social media as of 2012 for your information. With this progress report, we would like to emphasize that “progress” is vital and necessary on the Internet and social media for the development of participatory democracy within the framework of fundamental rights and freedoms. Thus, our purpose is to underline the quality of the Internet and social media as well as its conscious use rather than the increase in the number of users.

For further communication:

http://www.alternatifbilisim.org

bilgi@alternatifbilisim.org, @altbilisim

Eğitim Mah. Ömerbey Sok. Keskin Hancı İş Merkezi

No.19/B 34722 Kadıköy / İstanbul

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