Turkey: New Internet law threatens freedom of expression online

Turkey: New Internet law threatens freedom of expression online - Digital

A man reads news about social media at a cafe in Istanbul, Turkey, 29 July 2020. Turkey's Parliament has passed a controversial bill which gives the government control of social media. Photo by SEDAT SUNA/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

ARTICLE 19 has warned that a new Internet law in Turkey will threaten freedom of expression online and increase censorship in Turkey. The amendments to Turkey’s existing Internet law have been rushed through parliament and are likely to be passed this week.

ARTICLE 19’s Head of Europe and Central Asia Sarah Clarke said:

“The Turkish Government is attempting to blackmail tech companies into accepting their proposals. They face either becoming the long arm of the state censorship or having access to their platforms slowed so much that they are in effect blocked in Turkey.

“These proposals are particularly dangerous given the erosion of the rule of law in Turkey under the current government. Tech companies cannot rely on the courts to challenge blocking decisions or requests for user data. 

“The government claims this law is needed to protect personal rights, national security and public order. In reality, it will be used to censor critical voices and put individuals who speak out against the government at greater risk of criminal sanctions.

“There has been no consultation with either tech companies or civil society over the proposals. We call on the authorities to withdraw this bill but if they don’t, we urge the affected tech companies to speak out and oppose this attempt at blackmail.”

The proposals will amend Law No. 5651 Regulation of publications on the internet and suppression of crimes committed by means of such publication. The new law will:

  • Compel social media companies with over one million users a day to have representatives based in Turkey who are Turkish nationals. If they don’t, they will face fines of up to 40 million Turkish Lira (approximately 5 million euros), advertising bans and the reduction of Internet bandwidth by up to 90%, effectively blocking access to their platforms. ARTICLE 19 believes that in-country offices will give the Turkish Government greater control over the companies, and could pose serious risks for employees based there.
  • Force tech companies to store data locally. This means that it will be easier for the Turkish Government  to demand that companies hand over data about their customers that could well lead to their prosecution for what they have said or even just shared online.
  • Compel platforms to respond to requests to block or remove content within 48 hours or face fines of 5 million Turkish Lira, which could increase to 10 million Turkish Lira if they fail to respond. Given the likely high number of requests companies will face, it will be difficult to implement and it could mean that local company representatives will face sanctions for failing to comply on time. ARTICLE 19 believes this will be used to further silence people voicing critical opinions. By the end of 2019, Turkey had blocked access to 408.494 websites. This included Wikipedia, which was blocked for almost three years. Other tech platforms, such as WhatsApp have been ‘throttled’, that is their access to Internet bandwidth has been significantly reduced so that the platform doesn’t work. This tends to happen during political events, where the Government expects criticism. The new law will effectively codify existing practice by adding it to the range of sanctions that can be applied to social companies when they fail to comply with government demands.

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