ANKARA: Turkey’s parliament has approved Internet controls enabling web pages to be blocked within hours in what the opposition decried as part of a government bid to stifle a corruption scandal with methods more suited to “times of coups”.
Social media and video sharing sites have been awash with alleged recordings of ministers including Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and business allies presented as proof of wrongdoing.
Under a bill passed late on Wednesday, telecommunications authorities can block access to material within four hours without a prior court order, tightening restrictions imposed in a widely criticised law adopted by the EU candidate in 2007.
“This is against the constitution. Bans like this exist in times of coups and have not been able to conceal any corruption,” Umut Oran, a deputy from the main opposition CHP, told the general assembly.
Communications Minister Lutfu Elvan said criticism of the new law, including from the European Union, was based on misinformation and that it aimed to enable authorities to block specific content rather than impose blanket website bans.
“In many European countries (the laws) are much harsher ... none of the criticism bears any relation to reality,” he said.
The Internet legislation, which still needs the approval of President Abdullah Gul, will allow the storage of individuals’ browsing histories for up to two years.
Nils Muiznieks, commissioner for human rights at the Council of Europe, said the amendments went in the “opposite direction” to European standards on freedom of expression and of the media.
“The hasty and opaque manner in which these amendments have been pushed through parliament, without any genuine consultation of the major stakeholders, is also regrettable.”
The government says the Internet reforms, broadened in recent weeks, are aimed at protecting individual privacy not gagging its critics.
Turkey already has strict Internet laws under which thousands of websites have been blocked, from news portals viewed as close to Kurdish militants to gay dating sites.
More than 40,000 sites are blocked, according to Turkey’s engelliweb.com, which tracks access restrictions. Almost all Internet traffic passes through the infrastructure of Turk Telekom, which is 32 percent state-owned and used to count new Interior Minister Efkan Ala among its board members.
Turk Telekom declined to comment on the new law.
Jim Cowie, chief technology officer and founder of Renesys, a US-based firm that carries out real-time analysis of Internet routes and traffic and provides intelligence for network companies, said the move could hit investment.