Monday, May 16, 2011

“Don’t Touch My Internet” A (Festive) Day of Protest in Istanbul

May 16, 2011

Yesterday I took part in a massive demonstration against the Turkish government’s past/future censorship of the internet. The protest “don’t touch my Internet” took part throughout Turkey; however, only in Istanbul did it attract large numbers. The crowd of tens of thousands certainly was one of the biggest demonstrations I have seen on Istiklal Caddesi (the pedestrian avenue in the heart of Istanbul’s Taksim/Beyoglu neighborhood), with information about it being spread via facebook and other internet sites.

Over the past few years, I have addressed this topic a few times. However, the topic recently received new attention due to the Turkish Telecommunications Directorate (TIB)’s banning of 138 words from Turkish domain site names and the upcoming filtering system which will go into effect on August 22, requiring internet users to choose one of four filtering systems: family, children, domestic or standard. While the government claims that this new filtering system aims to protect families from pornography and that all users will have the right to choose the standard package, the government’s track record of blocking non-pornographic sites is not promising to say the least.

An example of how these filters work came to my knowledge when about two years ago I logged onto the free internet service in Beyoglu and tried to research about a banned book and its court case. After reading other articles about banned books, one of the news articles about a certain book was blocked due to the content of the article which “was not in line with family values (or something to the extent).” It turns out that the banned book’s topic was about women and lesbianism and therefore the page could not be pulled up since “lesbian” was filtered and automatically blocked. While this is in reference to the local municipality’s free service it exhibits the thinking behind such filters and the danger they pose to free speech and expression (not even to mention the book that had been banned)!

The government also should understand that you “cannot have your cake and eat it too.” Who can forget the President and Prime Minister of Turkey claiming that they even knew how to enter the once forbidden Youtube, even though it was closed down in accordance with Turkish Internet Ban Law, no. 5651 (see link below). Likewise, Prime Minster Erdoğan most recently at an election rally criticized Facebook, a site which few countries can compete with Turkey in terms of popularity. In his words, “Facebook is ugly technology. Pages in Facebook are ugly and awful…,” despite that he himself has a facebook page with over 700,000 likes.

To be frank, maneuvering through the legal and bureaucratic reality when it comes to the banning of internet sites is half the problem. From one person to the next it seems no one is clear about what exactly is the criteria for banning sites and the consistency. This confusion seems to be not only among the general population but also among the government itself. According to Freedom House, a US based advocacy group for free speech, “the procedure for censoring information under Law No. 5651 lacks transparency and is often done by administrative fiat, or by court orders in other cases. Within the judiciary, blocking orders can be issued by a judge during preliminary investigations as well as during trial. Censorship is also overseen by the TIB, which was established in August 2005 and has been fully functional since July 2006. Under Law No. 5651, the TIB's mandate includes monitoring internet content and executing blocking orders issued by judges and public prosecutors.” And adds, “Although Law No. 5651 was designed to protect children from illegal and harmful internet content, its broad application to date has had the effect of restricting adults' access to legal content. In some instances, the courts have blocked websites for political content using laws other than Law No. 5651*. To see the report in its entirety here is the link.

I suggest you read the following Hurriyet Daily News article about the banning of the domain site names, which I briefly mentioned above. This article does a good job at explaining the absurdity of TIB’s choice of banned words and the danger it poses to freedom of expression. Lastly, the opponents of the government’s plans to implement filters rightly point out that there are numerous ways to make one’s internet child-proof. Few would argue with the government's quest to protect children from pornography and illegal sites, however the track record of the government on banning sites until now can only leave one to question the extent of their bans and to fear that they also are set on imposing their conservative views on the general population.

For a link to photos of the protest see the following link

*For the current Law (in Turkish) relating to internet bans see the following link