Taylor Vanderhelm is a JD candidate at the University of Alberta.
New internet filtering rules set to commence in Turkey as of August 2011 have gathered international attention and raised the ire of many Turkish citizens recently. Turkey is set to introduce four new internet content filtering options: family, children, domestic, or standard as part of their “Safe Internet Service.” Choosing a filtering option will be mandatory under the currently proposed rules.
Turkish opponents of the new rules have created a Facebook page called “Internetime Dokunma!”, or “Don’t Touch My Internet!”, to organize country-wide protests against the web filters. The social networking page currently has over 600,000 supporters. The protests, which took place in various locations from Ankara to Istanbul on May 15, 2011, saw thousands of protestors and received international coverage.
Turkey’s regulatory authority, the Information and Communication Technologies Authority (BTK) has also provided a list of 138 words to be banned from Turkish domain names. The list includes both English and Turkish words, many of which have double meanings. Any websites that do include words from the list will be shut down. Examples include: “gay” and its Turkish pronunciation “gey,” “beat,” “escort,” “homemade,” “hot,” “nubile,” “free,” “teen,” “itiraf” (confession), “liseli” (high school student), “nefes” (breath) and “yasak” (forbidden). “Pic,” short for picture, is also banned as it means “bastard” in Turkish. This poses significant problems for businesses and website operators as domains only need to include part of these words to be shut down by the government. To illustrate, a website using the domain “donanimalemi.com” (hardwareworld.com) would be illegal under the new rules as it includes the word “animal.”
Not surprisingly, the move has met criticism from the international community. Dunja Mijatović, Representative on Freedom of the Media for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the European Commission’s vice chairwoman Neelie Kroes are among those who have spoken against the new rules. Turkish President Abdullah Gül, however, dismissed the reports through his twitter account posting that “according to information provided to me, nobody will be forced [to use a new filter application],” and that “nobody’s freedoms will be restrained. The private sector will keep providing its services in the same way. Meanwhile, the public [sector] will provide an alternative product [with the filter], as required by its responsibilities.” It should be noted that the statements have been translated from Turkish to English.
Turkey already has a history of blocking web sites through the Law on the Internet No. 5651, which was enacted in 2007. The law allows a variety of actors to appeal to the court or the Telecommunications Authority in order to have certain online content filtered. Often, entire web sites are blocked despite the fact that only a small portion of the content is deemed offensive under Turkish law. YouTube, for example, was blocked in its entirety because of videos insulting founding president of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. WordPress.com was also banned after Adnan Oktar, a Muslim creationist writer, claimed that a critic was using the WordPress site to post offensive content about him. Some other major sites to feel the sting of censorship include Last.fm and Myspace.
India has also made headlines regarding the freedom of information on the internet. The country recently instituted new rules requiring internet companies to remove objectionable content, which includes anything “grossly harmful” or “harassing” from their sites within 36 hours. The requirements, which took effect in April 2011, have been met with disapproval from Google in particular, claiming it unfairly exposes them to liability for content posted by third parties. However, Indian authorities have recently expressed a willingness to reconsider some of the rules to make them more appealing.
Unlike India, Turkey has not expressed any openness to redress the concerns of their citizens or international community when it comes to the freedom of information on the internet. Only time will tell if “Arab Spring” fever will spread to Turkey over the struggle for online freedoms in an already established democracy.