An international journalism watchdog has warned that a draft Internet controls bill moving through parliament would worsen Turkey’s “dismal” record on press freedoms.
The government-proposed legislation would allow Turkey’s telecommunications authority to block websites deemed to violate privacy without a prior court decision. It would also force Internet providers to keep users’ data stored for two years and make it available if requested by authorities.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said on Tuesday that Internet freedom has been deteriorating steadily in Turkey and that the bill would “compound” the problem.
The government has rejected accusations that the bill amounts to censorship, insisting it would protect privacy. Internet freedom activists, however, believe that their government designed the bill to silence its critics instantaneously.
“There is no transparency. A group in TIP (Ankara’s Telecommunication Directorate) just makes the decisions,” Mustafa Akgul, Professor at Internet Technology Association, told Al Jazeera.
“We don’t know how they make the decisions, how many bans they have, why they do it… They don’t have any checks and balances,” he said.
The proposed bill will also heavily attack alternative media such as Internet-based TV news services.
Vagus TV had more than one and half million monthly visitors before it was shut down without any warning and explanation.
“What is awful about the decision is, it’s pre-emptive,” Serdar Akinan, Editor in chief of Vagus TV, told Al Jazeera.
“The bureaucrats, who claim they can enforce this decision, now behave as if they were a court. But when I go to court, the judges and prosecutors say they don’t know about the decision,” Akinan said. “It’s just a mess, a legal disaster.”
In the past, Internet regulators were able to shut down websites that it did not approve of in a matter of two days but under the proposed bill, it can take up to four hours.
Turkish voters are looking for alternative sources of information that the State televisions and newspapers at a time when the country will be seeing nation-wide elections in the coming months.
The proposed measure comes as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government is fighting a corruption probe targeting people close to him.