Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has angered civil rights groups and Turkish citizens with a new internet law that passed through parliament on 6 February 2014.
The law gives the government unlimited power to block and filter websites deemed to violate privacy or considered insulting without requiring a court order.
In addition, the law allows government infinite access to data and information on all internet users, whom would be unknowing of when and how the information is collected.
This requires internet providers to keep data on all web users for at least two years.
It is not a new revelation that Erdogan is no fan of social media and networking on the internet, stating in the past “There is now a scourge that is called Twitter. The best examples of lies can be found there. To me, social media is the worst menace to society.” However, this new law doesn’t only target social media users, but all internet users.
Erdogan’s reaction to the 2013 Turkish Protest had already increased tensions with civil rights groups. With the country still in a socio-cultural divide, this new internet law could push already angry citizens over the edge, and had this effect on Saturday when protests erupted.
Some news sources have claimed this new internet law is a partial reaction to evidence posted online of the corruption scandals in December 2013. By claiming unlimited authority over internet data, the government would have easier access in covering up embarrassing or incriminating allegations, just like the ones in December.
Viewed as a democratic Muslim state, Turkey has been a prominent model of how democracy and Islam can function together.
However, with Erdogan’s somewhat heavy handed curtailing of citizens’ freedoms, including speech, assembly, and expression, many are concerned with the path Turkey is taking. In Freedom House’s “Freedom of the Net,” Turkey was already deemed ‘partially free, but where will this latest legislation place Turkey?
The new internet law questions freedom of speech and expression by limiting access and blocking sites that the government deems inappropriate. In effect, the privacy of internet users will be subjected to governmental monitoring and investigation.
This new internet law is a sign of the country backtracking on its historical democratic efforts, a trend on which the EU has already voiced its concerns.
Turkey has been an EU candidate state for some twenty-six years, the longest wait in EU history. The European Commission’s spokesman Peter Stano claimed “This law is raising serious concerns here. The law in its current form introduces several restrictions on freedom of expression, the Turkish public deserves more information and more transparency, not more restrictions.”
Turkey’s new internet law pushes it further from completing the EU Enlargement Copenhagen Accession Criteria. With severe crackdowns on protests mid-2013, Turkey had already faced accusations of authoritarianism and the EU points out this new internet legislation does not help their case.
Turkey passing this new internet law can be viewed as a push away from its Western neighbours and a move towards its Eastern ones. States such as Iran and Saudi Arabia are deemed ‘not free’ by in the “2013 Freedom of the Net” Report, with both states having limitations on access, content, and user rights.
This is concerning given both the understandable global view of Iran and Saudi Arabia as authoritarian. Social media, information and communication technology applications, political content, and social content are all blocked in Iran and Saudi Arabia.
In addition, the arrests of bloggers and internet users certainly identifies both states as oppressive in this regard.
With Turkey an ally of the EU and USA foreign policies, there are significant fears of it turning its back on the West and opening arms to Eastern states. If this new internet law is ratified, it could definitely be a step further along this worrying path.
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