Last Tuesday, Turkey implemented a new Internet filtration system. Since the Turkish Information and Communication Technologies Authority (called BTK) announced this system in May, it has been quite controversial. BTK initially proposed a compulsory filtering system with four levels of filtering that consumers could choose between. Not surprisingly, that plan came under fire from Turkish citizens and academics, who challenged the plan in Turkey’s highest administrative court. In response, BTK revised the measure to its current form, which offers two voluntary filtering options and a number of banned word searches. The banned search terms include the English words “porno,” “sex,” “adult,” “fetish,” “escort,” “mature” and “gay,” as well as the Turkish words for “naked,” “hot,” “sister-in-law,” “mother-in-law,” “stepmother.”
Although the filtering regime is on its face weak, many fear that this opens the door to more invasive and opaque measures. Turkey is no stranger to censorship, blocking as many as 20,000 sites. Whereas the previous system required a court order, providing a modicum of transparency, the new filtering system will be implemented through a small, non-transparent executive body. This lack of transparency creates the very real possibility that officials could exploit vaguely defined grounds for censorship to block a wide-range of content.
Although the new system is voluntary and requires consumers to opt-in, consumers will face a hard push from their ISPs. The system may be voluntary for consumers, but promoting the service is mandatory for ISPs. Moreover, consumers will have limited choices as to what is filtered; a subcommittee of the BTK called the “Child and Family Profiles Criteria Working Committee” will make the actual filtering decisions. Despite the threat to Internet freedom as a whole, some consumers appear interested in potential protections for children and families; according to the BTK, 7,000 users subscribed to one of the filtration plans within the first day of it being offered. Indeed, some of the measure’s critics concede that it may reduce the prevalence of harmful online content such as child pornogoraphy.
Regardless of the potential benefits of the system, its implementation has not been without problems. Some Turkish Internet users have reported difficulty of accessing sites that seem unrelated to the proposed aim of the filtering measures. Additionally, early adopters of the system have reported that it has blocked shopping and humor sites as well as popular social networking sites such as Facebook.
We encourage our Turkish members of the Herd to report sites that are blocked, noting in the comment section if you have adopted one of the filtering options.