Turkish Internet filtering plan ‘unconstitutional,’ experts say

Turkish Internet filtering plan ‘unconstitutional,’ experts say – Hurriyet Daily News and Economic Review

Wednesday, May 4, 2011
ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News

A plan to require Internet users in Turkey to choose one of four content-filtering packages is unconstitutional and violates the right to freedom of expression, legal experts and civil-society groups have said.

‘[Turkish authorities] look at how they can impose regulations that limit the freedom of expression on the Internet, rather than promoting this freedom,’ Orhan Erinç, the chairman of the Turkish Journalists Community, told the Hürriyet Daily News in a phone interview Wednesday. He said that mentality had not changed for more than three decades, since the beginnings of radio and television broadcasting in the country.

The decision by the Prime Ministry’s Information Technologies Board, or BTK, to approve the filtering regulation is inconsistent with Turkish laws and with the country’s Constitution, said Yaman Akdeniz, a cyber-rights activist and a law professor at Istanbul Bilgi University.

‘The [BTK’s] decision is arbitrary and has no legal basis,’ Akdeniz told the Daily News on Tuesday, saying the board has no authority to make such decisions.

The news portal Bianet.org has filed a complaint on these grounds to the Council of State, arguing that existing Turkish legislation gives the BTK no authority to make and enforce such decisions and that the filtering application itself violates the Turkish Constitution and other laws.

‘Bianet.org argues in its complaint that the decision violates the Constitution, thus I expect the decision will be canceled by the Council of State. We still have to wait,’ Akdeniz said.

As the board’s decision does not have a legal basis, its limitations and authorities are not clear either, according to Kerem Altınparmak, an expert in human rights law who spoke Tuesday in an interview on NTVMSNBC. ‘According to what extent [and what measures] will such a decision be applied? There is no [provision] on this [on the decision].

‘If we assume that a family consists of five members, of ages between 8 and 60 and it has only one computer: which package shall it choose?’ Altınparmak said, adding that adults risked to be treated like children regarding access to various Internet websites.

BTK Chairman Tayfun Acarer has said the debate on the filtering application is ‘inaccurate’ and politically motivated.

‘Bringing this topic to the agenda these days is political,’ Acarer said, according to an Anatolia news agency report Wednesday.

Four Internet filters

Under a decision on ‘Rules and Procedures of the Safety of Internet Use,’ approved by the BTK in February, Internet users in Turkey will have to choose one of four Internet packages: family, children, domestic or standard. The list of websites filtered by each package will be decided by the BTK but will not be made public.

The change will be implemented starting Aug. 22.

According to Acarer, Internet users will maintain their current access to Internet websites if they chose the standard package. ‘How is it possible that [the BTK’s decision] is being manipulated in this way?’ he asked, saying a similar application was also available in European countries.

‘If we were to require everyone to take the children’s package, I would agree with the criticism,’ Acarer said. He added that people would be subscribed to packages other than the standard one only upon their own demand.

Appeal to the European court

The Turkish interactive website İnci Sözlük said Wednesday that it would appeal the BTK decision to the European Court of Human Rights if it does not get the results it seeks after exhausting all domestic judicial channels, according to a report by the television channel NTVMSNBC.

The BTK’s decision is inconsistent with the provisions on freedom of expression in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention of Human Rights, said Erinç of the Turkish Journalists Community.

‘Turkey is party to both of these, which have supremacy over Turkish laws, according to the new constitutional amendments brought after the Sept. 12, 2010, referendum,’ Erinç said, adding that such provisions were ‘unfortunately’ not respected by Turkey.

The debate on the Internet filter heated up after the Telecommunications Directorate, or TİB, sent Internet hosting firms a list of 138 words, urging the companies to ban websites that contained any of these words in their domain name. Although the TİB said such a request aimed to protect children from exposure to dangerous content on the Internet, experts argued it was illegal. The TİB withdrew its request after harsh public reaction.

Access to thousands of websites is banned in Turkey, based on the Internet Ban Law No. 5651. Reporters without Borders put Turkey in the category of ‘countries under surveillance’ in its latest report on ‘Internet Enemies.’

Internet filtering plan spurs political debate

Turkey’s ruling party has said new Internet filtering requirements are not a ban on online content but a means of ‘control’ as the main opposition promises to open access to websites that have been blocked.

The decision by the Prime Ministry’s Information Technologies Board, or BTK, to require that Internet access be subjected to one of four content filters should not be considered censorship, said Ayşe Nur Bahçekapılı, the parliamentary group deputy chairwoman of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP.

‘As a party, we already fight against bans but there are some websites that interfere in people’s private lives. So there should be a control mechanism to protect private life,’ she told the Hürriyet Daily News.

The main opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP, responded to the filtering decision by launching a new motto on its official website: ‘You close [Internet websites], we will open them.’

‘There is no [time] in Turkey when we do not face new censures and pressures. There are many barriers put in front of the right of people to be informed in Turkey,’ the CHP said in an online statement on the issue, comparing the Internet restrictions to the censoring and imprisonment of journalists.

In the statement, the party said it had opened up its official website’s ‘CHP News’ section to reader comments. ‘Let this be an example to all those who after [silencing] the free press, try to silence the Internet after Aug. 22,’ the statement read.