'What is at stake is the right of Turkish citizens to speak freely'

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Aaron Schachter: I'm Aaron Schachter, in for Marco Werman, and this is The World, a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI, and WGBH in Boston.
If you like in Turkey, odds are you go online every day. Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are all wildly popular with tech savvy young people there, including those critical of the government, and officials have long worried about that. They've also had the power to shut down access, provided a court approved. Yesterday, though, Turkey's parliament passed a law that allows blocking online access without a court order. The legislation also requires internet providers to store users' data and make it available to government officials.
Zeynep Tufekci is from Turkey and teaches at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She says it's a worrisome change.

Zeynep Tufekci: This is the government's attempt to put the cat back in the bag, so to speak, by giving it the ability to target individual users who use the internet to express their opinion, maybe their criticism, to share things that they can be prosecuted for under other restrictive Turkish laws.

Schachter: Now Zeynep, not everyone feels that protection against defamation is strong enough. I want to play you a bit of tape. This is Hakan Camuz, he's president of a group called MUSIAD, a conservative Turkish business association with close ties to the government, and he gives an example of why the new law is necessary.

Hakan Camuz: A leader of opposition, a couple years ago, was subjected to the exact same treatment where his private life was exposed by a website. Where his relationship, his personal relationship, was exposed. He had to resign. He suffered from this. They're trying to amend things like this from happening. In the old regime, you had to work for seven days before you could do anything about it. This new amendment will bring speedy action.

Schachter: Zeynep, does mister Camuz not have an argument there?

Tufekci: Well, the case he's referring to, where an opposition leader was basically ousted after a surreptitious camera was placed in his bedroom with his mistress, is obviously atrocious and awful, and is a grave invasion of privacy. But I don't really see why taking internet blocking out of the judicial system helps that at all. In fact, if you want speedy resolution of violations of privacy like that, you know, create a court that's open around the clock for issues like that, and bring this back subject to judicial oversight. And I don't really see what that has anything to do with the real problem with the law, which is massive surveillance that compels ISPs to keep all information on all users, to be turned over to the government whenever the government requests it.

Schachter: Zeynep, you travel back and forth to Turkey, and you're pretty open in your views. Do you think you'll have to change the way you use the internet?

Tufekci: I won't. I will choose not to change the way I use the internet. I will go to Turkey, I will use my phone, which has my citizen ID tied to it. I will tweet openly about what I'm doing. And that's not because I don't know the ways to hide. I can use VPNs, I can use Tor, I can do a lot of things to hide my identity and my steps. But what is at stake is the right of Turkish citizens to speak freely as citizens. The goal here isn't to find some technical means that makes us hide and keep our traces. The goal should be, and you know, this is true everywhere in the world, is the right to exercise our right to free speech as citizens. People will find ways to get the information out. People will find ways to keep their, you know, footsteps on the internet hidden, but that doesn't solve the problem, because what is necessary is an open public sphere where we can exercise our rights, not some hiding behind the curtains where we whisper to each other while, you know, wearing masks over our heads.

Schachter: Zeynep, Turkey is a wildly wired country. From what I understand, it has one of the highest internet usage rates in Europe. This is not an internet backwater. So the government knows what you're talking about, that people will circumvent whatever it is they put in place. I wonder if this is more political statement than real attempt at censoring the internet. Just to say, "Look, we can do what we want, and you guys need to cut it out."

Tufekci: It's a real attempt at marginalizing and targeting users who oppose the government. I don't think the government is fooled by the idea that they can fully control the internet or the public sphere. People will circumvent. But what this will do is the government, the ability to look at people's full records of internet access and use it to prosecute or target them, at the individual level. And that's what's worrisome.

Schachter: Zeynep Tufekci of the University of North Carolina, talking about new internet restrictions in Turkey. Zeynep, thank you as always for joining us.

Tufekci: Thank you.