Turkey: Pandora’s Box will be opened shortly…

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Turkey is one of the countries people keep watching closely. Due to its strategic location, dynamic society structure (half of the population is below age 30), potential economical power and EU membership process; Turkey becomes a popular subject in recent years. People could be right to follow this developing country for the mentioned reasons and country’s substantial role between Europe and Middle East. However, there is also a common concern among the people for Turkey’s bad reputation regarding the human rights issues. Turkey has been criticized by international authorities for the long term criminal cases and long term detention periods. All these lead Turkish Government to deal with serious cases before the ECHR and no one surprised to see Turkey undertaking high indemnification costs. Even though the government is always busy with the human right matters, it does not hesitate them to issue new legislation which draws big critics from human rights activists and media law experts. The legislation is basically about state authorities’ control on internet under the name of filtering.

Information and Communication Technologies Authority (ICTA), the authority regulating telecommunication system in Turkey, announced on 22nd of February that all internet users have to choose one of the filtering packages developed by them. Filtering on Internet is not a new method to help internet users dealing with bad content websites. From 90’s, the method has been supported domestically and internationally by private and governmental organizations to make internet users surf on net safely. When we look through this perspective, ICTA’s order which is going to be in force after 22nd of August, could be perceived as a good step for safe usage of internet. However, the relevant order of ICTA has been criticized by most of the internet users and legal experts.

People, mostly internet users, believe that ICTA’s order uses the safe internet policy to justify censorship. People who think like that rely upon Turkey’s records on the censorship of internet.(The Internet in Turkey is listed as “partially free” according to UN’s Freedom House and it is believed that there are nearly 10.000 web sites restricted in Turkey.) Most of the legal experts agreed with the majority’s views about the recent developments. Even though the common approach for filtering system is positive among the legal society, people do not find it appropriate to see state intervening internet society through filtering system. There are so many concerns about how the list of web sites will be arranged by ICTA for four different filtering packages which are standard package, kids package, family package and domestic package. Experts believe there will be a lot of web sites which could be unfairly titled as web sites with bad contents after a weak analysis of ICTA. Experts underline that none of the European Countries conduct internet through its own regulated and compulsory filtering packages. Even though Turkey follows the same regulations with EU countries to fight against web sites involving contents such as pornography, child porn, suicidal materials, gambling, drug trafficking; it takes further steps to block web sites through filtering system. In addition to this, the order of ICTA is so harsh that it will charge internet users with serious crimes if they manage to access the filtered web sites by changing their computer and internet settings.

On the other hand, government believes that there is a big misunderstanding about the system. They persistently emphasize that the measures are just for the benefits of internet users to have a safer internet environment and standard package users will not deal with any filtered web sites. Therefore, the government authorities assure internet users that the present situation will not change and there are no reasons to criticize the policy as non democratic. However, all these explanations did not satisfy more than 30.000 people gathered on 15th of May in Istanbul to protest government for the new state regulated filtering system. This was a clear sign that internet users have serious concerns with forthcoming ICTA’s order. Thus, 22nd of August will be a milestone day for internet, media law and freedom of expression in Turkey. Pandora’s Box will be opened shortly…

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