Turkey’s recent move to tighten government control of the Internet should again make us think of actions and how they impact the Internet. It is the latest piece in a string of similar decisions made by various governmental and non-governmental actors to use the Internet as a tool to acquire a certain degree of control. But, I think that the belief that anyone is entitled to any form of control of the Internet is quite misguided.
The truth is that the Internet has created a faux sense of entitlement. We see governments increasingly imploring measures to address what they consider vital to preserve their sovereign-based rights. We see something similar with businesses, only they want to preserve market power. But, as it has repeatedly been stated, such actions can have an impact on the Internet. Turkey is just the most recent example. Blocking, filtering and other mechanisms have been constantly employed to control speech or to address intellectual property concerns with the ultimate goal of controlling user behavior. This is precisely what Mr. Erdogan’s government is trying to do with this new Internet law.
The new law will allow authorities – deemed appropriate by the Turkish government – without a court order or any other due process, to block websites under the pretense of protecting user privacy and public order. According to the New York Times: “The new law is a transparent effort to prevent social media and other sites from reporting on a corruption scandal that reportedly involves bid-rigging and money laundering.”
Turkey’s law is driven by a combination of agendas. It is a political effort by Mr. Erdogan to manage corruption scandals that his government cannot seem to shake off. As the New York Times reported “in one audio recording, leaked last month to SoundCloud, the file-sharing site, Mr. Erdogan is said to be heard talking about easing zoning laws for a construction tycoon in exchange for two villas for his family”. It is also consistent with Turkey’s historical context of being a society that has never managed to become truly democratic. But, what makes Turkey an interesting case is that, over the past few years, industrially it has been thriving and its young population is realizing the benefits of the Internet. Turkey could seize the opportunity to use the Internet both for its economic and democratic evolution.
We are only starting to witness the effects of such actions. They are driving users to become increasingly savvier and more demanding. They push for freedom of information. Governments, on the other hand, often consider this freedom ‘unsafe’ and try to manage it.
But safety, in the Internet, like security, is a process; it is not a one-off commitment. As Leslie Daigle, discussing security, accurately put it in a blog post: “In my opinion, the big difference the past year's revelations about government surveillance make is a step function change in understanding of credible threats.” For the technical community the process of creating a more secure Internet involves the constant understanding of the network and an adherence to a set of basic principles – transparency, cooperation, accountability and due process.
For policy makers, the process should involve questions and loyalty to the same set of principles the technical community operates. And, questions have started being asked. Dutch Member of the European Parliament, Marietje Schaake, said in a blog post: “These new laws strengthen the grip of the Turkish government on what can and cannot be published online and they restrict access to information. Freedom of speech and press freedom are already under a lot of pressure and Turkey is the largest prison for journalists. Since 2007, many websites have been blocked. The European Commission needs to show that the rule of law and fundamental freedoms are at the centre of EU policy. The Gezi Park protests, last summer, have shown that the Turkish people long for freedom and democracy, we must not leave them standing in the cold.”