Turkish Parliament Changes Raise Privacy, Free Expression Concerns
Turkey already has a restrictive Internet law (no. 5651), which Human Rights Watch has criticized because it allows for the wholesale blocking of Internet sites, including YouTube and Google sites, in an unlawful manner. Website blocking under the law resulted in a 2012 ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (Ahmet Yıldırım v. Turkey) that Turkey had violated its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights to respect freedom of expression.
The latest amendments allow the Telecommunications Directorate, a body controlled by the government, to pinpoint and order the removal of particular content (URLs) when there is a complaint that a posting violates privacy. The new law justifies new blocking measures as a move to “protect the family, children, and youth from items on the Internet that encourage drug addiction, sexual abuse, and suicide.” But its wide scope in some cases permits the Telecommunications Directorate to block content without a court order or the clear possibility of judicial review, raising concerns that the law extends the possibilities for government censorship.
The new law also extends data retention requirements to “hosting providers” – certain Internet companies, forcing them to collect and retain information about Internet users for up to two years. Internet companies are required to hand this information over to the government upon request, with uncertain protections for the right to privacy.
In a statement and briefing on the new provisions, Dunja Mijatović, the media freedom representative for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, found that these requirements “will enable the administration to request and collect data on all Internet users from Turkey without judicial review” and concluded that the changes have “the potential to significantly impact free expression, investigative journalism, the protection of journalists’ sources, political discourse, and access to information over the Internet.”
“The revision of an already restrictive Internet law is another step toward eroding free speech and the right to privacy in Turkey,” Sinclair-Webb said.