Turkey Tightens Grip Over the Internet: Government Augments Its Web Censorship to More Quickly Block Content

Turkey tightened control over the Internet and expanded the powers of its telecoms authority, augmenting the government’s web censorship regime to allow it to more quickly block content without legal delays.

A bill passed by parliament late on Monday handed the TIB telecoms authority the power to shut immediately any website deemed to threaten national security or public order.

The move effectively broadens February legislation that allowed regulators to block websites without a court order according to the more narrow definition of privacy violation. That law fueled public anger and drew rebukes from Washington and Brussels.

The expanded Internet law, which must be approved by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, comes days after Turkey’s government hosted a high-profile conference on web governance in Istanbul. It is also part of the first legislative package since Mr. Erdogan, the former prime minister, won the country’s first direct presidential elections on a pledge to create a “New Turkey.”

Mr. Erdogan heads Turkey’s ruling political party and is certain to sign the legislation into law.

The expanded powers represent a tightening of existing legislation rather than an overhaul of Turkey’s censorship regime.

“What this does is speed up government control,” said Zeynep Tufekci, a fellow at the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton University. “Now they can block with no delay, meaning it decreases the odds that people will see content they don’t want them to.”

Turkey earlier this year blocked Twitter, TWTR +4.60% YouTube and dozens of other sites amid a flurry of leaked recordings appearing to implicate Mr. Erdogan and his allies in corruption. Government critics said the February legislation which followed was part of a bid to stifle the investigation.

Mr. Erdogan said the moves were intended to protect privacy and national security and cast the leaks as a plot orchestrated by his ally-turned-foe, U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, whose followers wield influence in the police and judiciary.

Mr. Erdogan eventually backed down from the Twitter and YouTube bans after they were overturned by Turkey’s top court.

But his response left Internet companies and government officials from Washington to Brussels worried that Turkey could become a template for other countries where leaders want to rein in the Internet without cracking down with as much force as China or Iran.

The restrictions have spotlighted the challenges for some of the world’s most visible Internet companies, which are grappling with how far they are willing to go to accommodate Mr. Erdogan’s government in return for continued access to the country.

The dilemma is heightened because Turkey is emblematic of the emerging markets where tech companies are looking for a big growth spurt.

Write to Joe Parkinson at joe.parkinson@wsj.com

Source: http://online.wsj.com/articles/turkey-tightens-grip-over-the-internet-1410279325

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