Though the best-known controllers of Internet freedom are China, Cuba, Iran, and North Korea, other countries also attempt to limit Internet access for a variety of reasons. The Turkish government is a case in point, banning more websites than any European nation. In late 2009, the Turkish government stopped releasing statistics, but the number of blocked websites could be as high as 12,000. Turkey blocks access to Google, claiming that Google does not comply with Turkish tax law, which Google disputes. YouTube has also been blocked since May 2008. The Turkish government remains deeply suspicious of Internet activity and has acted to counter several Internet conspiracies, one involving a group of military officers, allegedly aimed at overthrowing the government.
A new directive by Turkey’s Information Technologies Board (BTK) would take these controls to a new level. Fortunately, cooler heads have prevailed. On August 4, following considerable public and international attention, the BTK modified its approach somewhat and announced that it is postponing implementation of “Procedures and Principles regarding Safe Internet Use” from August 22 to November 22. The directive was draconian in its initial form. As announced on February 22, Internet users would have had to choose between one of four Internet filtering options: family, children, domestic, or standard. Any computer with Internet access would have to have one of these filters installed, and in Orwellian fashion, the list of blocked websites is classified. A modified decree later went out that would reduce the number of filters from four to two.
Still, Turkey’s Internet users and human rights groups have been up in arms over the new controls. On May 15, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in Turkish cities. The original version of the BTK directive was referred to the Council of State by the Turkish human rights website Bianet.org, which questioned its legality. Turkey’s Internet controls could be a factor that would help prevent Turkey from joining the European Union, and the Turkish government has received criticism from international human rights organizations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and even the Turkish president. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton publicly criticized the policies on CNN’s Turkish channel last month.
Reporters Without Borders ranks Turkey 138 out of 178 countries in the world on press freedom and lists Turkey as a country “under surveillance” as far as Internet freedom is concerned. As of now, the Turkish government is being watched closely for its next step.