New law to further tighten Turkey’s Internet control

SHAFAQNA- The government has added a last-minute amendment to an omnibus law that will be discussed in Parliament this week, proposing further tightening of the country’s Internet controls.

With the amendment, the scope of the Internet Law will be extended, giving the prime minister and relevant ministers the power to close down a website if national security and security of life and property are considered to be at risk.

According to the planned amendment, if the content is considered to be a threat to the aforementioned subjects, then the website will be totally removed or access to it will be blocked.

The amendment added by the government, which has increasingly relied on omnibus laws to make amendments to major regulations and laws with little or no discussion on the changes, proposes authorities to block access to websites over “dangerous content,” several media outlets reported over the weekend.

According to the Hürriyet daily, the Telecommunications Directorate (TİB) will be able to block access to a website upon the request of the Prime Ministry or any other ministry if it is not possible to block specific content on that website.

The proposed amendment suggests these actions are justified when “national security and public order are under threat,” Hürriyet said.

Such a move is considered another step towards a more authoritarian Turkey, undermining freedom of the media and information.

Turkey already has tight controls of the Internet following an expansion of powers of the telecoms authority late last year. TİB, which is headed by a former intelligence official, has the authority to block sites if deemed necessary for matters of “national security, the restoration of public order and the prevention of crimes.”

Also in February of last year, TİB was authorized to block websites that violate individuals’ privacy without seeking permission from a court. The measures also force Internet providers to keep records of users’ activity for up to two years and make these available to the authorities upon request.

US-based rights watchdog Freedom House said in December that Internet freedom in Turkey experienced the sharpest decline in five years among 65 countries.

“Turkey declined 13 points as the government increased censorship, granted state agencies broad powers to block content, and charged more people for online expression,” the report said based on tracking results since 2009.

The government is thought to be using legislative amendments to try and hush up a massive corruption scandal that went public on Dec. 17, 2013 and implicated then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, his inner circle and several ministers. A ban on websites is part of an effort to block the sharing of information on issues that will put the government in a more difficult position in the eyes of the people and in front of the courts as general elections scheduled for June approach.

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