The independent internet freedom watchdog “Turkey Blocks” reported last Sunday that the Turkish government has started to target the TOR-network, an internet security utensil. TOR allows users to channel their internet traffic through a network of routers all over the world, making it impossible to identify the original user. Government efforts to block VPN services were already reported at the beginning of November. Systems like Tor or VPN became a familiar tool for many Turks during the Gezi protests in 2013, when social media services were targeted by the government to reign in countrywide protests. As during the Arab Spring, Gezi protesters had used social media such as Twitter and the video streaming service Periscope to mobilize for their protests.
Since 2013, in the last three and a half years, the government has gradually increased control and censorship over the internet, partially enabled by successive legislative changes. The recent arrest of Kurdish lawmakers and co-Chairs of the pro-Kurdish HDP came together with social media throttling and a shutdown of instant messaging services like WhatsApp, Telegramm, and Skype.
More recently, social media throttling is accompanied by a broadcast ban following important events. The murder of the Russian Ambassador in Ankara on Monday is the most recent example – for several hours the internet became so slow, that no proper use was possible. Combined with an ever increasing pressure on free media outlets, internet media used to be one of the few options to access alternative information sources.
With the most recent steps the government seems to be trying to prevent citizens from circumventing internet blocks imposed by the authorities. These restrictions go hand in hand with enhanced abilities of the Turkish government to monitor internet usage in the country. Last October, Forbes published an article on the surveillance investments of Turkey, including software which enables to get subscribers’ usernames and passwords for unencrypted websites, their IP addresses, and further information on the sites they have visited. The Law on the Protection of Personal Data, which was recently enacted, has also raised concerns regarding the government’s role in digital privacy. One point raised is the functioning of the Data Protection Commission, which was established under the new law, but which’s independence seems not to be guaranteed. Another issue is how easy it is for state authorities to access personal data.