Sunday, February 26, 2012

Big Brother Inc.: Turkey, an endemic surveillance society

Privacy International revealed Turkey's privacy profile and personal data protection framework and concluded that Turkey is an endemic surveillance society even before the referendum of September 2010, which equipped the jurisdiction and the law enforcement with more consolidated power.


Wiretapping, access to, and interception of communications

Despite the existing laws and regulations, the right to privacy of private communications is immature in Turkey. According to Human Rights Watch, human rights defenders are routinely placed under surveillance, often prevented from holding public events, and routinely prosecuted for various speech and assembly offences.[22]

Articles 195-200 of the Turkish Criminal Code govern freedom of communication through letters, parcels, telegram, and telephone. Government officials are required, subject to various exceptions, to obtain a judicial warrant before monitoring private correspondence.

In a letter that was leaked to the media in early 2007, the National Intelligence Agency Undersecretary complained about the difficulties the national intelligence community was facing because of existing legislation against phone tapping and eavesdropping; he requested an amendment in the law to enhance the agency's eavesdropping powers.[23]
National security legislation

In 2006, the government adopted amendments to its Antiterrorism Law. The amendments have been highly criticised for placing further restrictions on the already censored media. Editors that disclose the identities of public personnel fighting terrorism may be fined, and a judge may order the closure for up to one month of a publication that "makes propaganda for terrorist organisations." During the year there was an increase in the number of cases against the press under the Antiterrorism Law. The Turkish Publishers Association and human rights groups reported that the law contains an overly broad definition of what constitutes an offence that allows ideologically and politically motivated prosecutions.[24]

Immediately following deadly bombings in Ankara in May 2007, the government proposed another amendment to the Police Task and Authority Bill, (Polis Vazife Ve Selahiyet Kanunu)[25] that will allow police to take fingerprints of anyone applying for a gun licence, driving licence, passport, or Turkish citizenship. This amendment was adopted swiftly in June 2007. It also provides the police with a larger authority to stop, search, and demand identification from individuals. The amended Bill also enables the police to use anyone to collect information. Some lawyers say it represents the largest expansion of police authority ever.[26]
Data retention

In the Telecommunications Council's 2007 work plan, the Authority stated that it plans to review the Regulation on Personal Data Processing and the Protection in Telecommunication Sector (Regulation) in order to suggest methods of harmonising it with the European Union's 2006 Data Retention Directive.[27] No further information has been provided.
National databases for law enforcement and security purposes

The Ministry of Justice has recently established a National Judiciary Informatics System (Ulusal Yargı Ağı Projesi or UYAP ),[28] which is to implement a very ambitious information system between the courts and all other institutions of the Ministry, including prisons. UYAP equipped these institutions with computers with networking and Internet connections, allowing them access to all legislation, decisions of the Supreme Court, judicial records, judicial data of the police, and army records. Thus, UYAP established an electronic network covering all courts, offices of public prosecutors and law enforcement offices together with the Central Organisation of the Ministry of Justice."

In that regard, GIT - North America had previously called attention to the
controversial "press reform" of Turkey's Ministry of Justice. In another analysis of media-based hate speech campaign against the arrested academic Büşra Ersanlı, we also illustrated the kinds of violations of personal information that might be legalized by the State, under the disguise of "press reform." The analysis showed how her ex-husbands' privacy was violated and how their official criminal records, ethnic and religious identification records were investigated and revealed, in order to target her. The piece demonstrated how this "press reform" will likely secure the government's right to violate its citizens' privacy.

As all signs indicate, Turkey needs an urgent legal reform; rather than shady "press reforms" that seem more likely to secure the state's rights to violate its citizens' privacy, real remedy to the judicial system should be putting into question Turkey's anti-terrorism law and its problems instead, as well as implementing a close scrutiny process in the context of "legal wire-tapping" and better protect individual rights to privacy, expression, and association and identity.

To read the full Privacy International report on Turkey, please visit: