Turkish Internet law to ‘protect private life’

Removal of unlawful content from the Internet in four hours is vital to protect personal privacy as voice record leakages increased ahead of local elections, experts say.

Removal of unlawful content from the Internet in four hours is vital to protect personal privacy as voice record leakages increased ahead of local elections, experts say.

By Turgut Alp Boyraz and M. Bilal Kenasari - Anadolu Agency

ANKARA - A law allowing the government to block Internet content in four hours aims to protect personal privacy according to Turkish government, as opposition see it as restriction of freedom.

The Turkish parliament passed a bill Thursday that allows Turkey’s Presidency of Telecommunications (TIB) to block access to certain parts of a website without prior court approval.

However, the institute will be allowed to use its authority only in urgent situations, and the matter must then be brought to a court within 24 hours. The court will decide on whether to approve or suspend the institute's decision.

“The government considers the Internet as a big threat to its authority and started to prepare a law," Umut Oran, deputy chairman of the Republican People's Party (CHP), the country's main opposition, said earlier this week.

Regarding to Turkish opposition's stance on the new internet law, Murat Yilmaz, an expert of Turkish domestic policy at the Institute of Strategic Thinking (SDE), said Turkish opposition categorically oppose the new law, regardless of its contents.

“Instead of contributing to the process, the opposition categorically oppose the Internet law, considering it as a censorship. But one cannot ignore concerns of those who found their private content on the Internet. So a new legislation is required to protect the right of privacy as new technologies enable easy access to private life. Unfortunately, the opposition chose to use this law as a tool to support its claim that government tries to tighten its authority over every segment of the society,” said Yilmaz.

Turkish government defend the new law, saying it would enhance personal privacy, because people who found their private content on the Internet would be able to apply to the Telecommunication Institute for it to be blocked, without having to wait for legal proceedings to take place.

Before the law was enacted, people or companies had to wait for legal proceedings before content they considered private could be blocked.

"We are not putting a ban on the Internet, we are getting rid of the previous mechanism which could easily ban the Internet," said Lutfi Elvan, Turkey's communications minister.

Despite including some weak points, the new Internet law would have a positive effect on right of privacy, said Mahir Orak, a Turkish lawyer specialized on the Internet.

“This law is part of a broader amendment and has some weak points such as leaving unclear how to decide what is private life or not. It doesn’t explain enough on how the Telecommunication Institute (TIB) make decision. Despite those, it still improves the protection of private life. Because in the existing law, it takes one week for the court to decide on each case, which is too late as it will spread quickly online,” said Orak.

European Union and United States also voiced concern over the new bill. Turkey's new Internet law "needs to be revised in line with European standards," European Commission Spokesperson, Peter Stano, told a press briefing on Thursday as US State Department says law is not compatible with freedom of expression.

In 2013, almost half of Turkey’s population were Internet users. The estimated number of Twitter users is 12 million and more than 32 million people in the country use Facebook. The country's total population is about 80 million.

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