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Turkey: Passage of Social Media Law Curtails Human Rights Online

Image: Turkey Parliament.

The new law, which is expected to take effect in October, would impose stringent requirements on social media companies and bolster the government’s ability to censor online speech.


SulutPos.com, Washington – In response to the passage of a law in Turkey that would impose new requirements on social media companies, Freedom House issued the following statement:

“This is a dramatic escalation of internet regulation in Turkey,” said Adrian Shahbaz, director for technology and democracy at Freedom House. “Under this law, Turkish authorities are aiming to coerce social media companies to comply with censorship and surveillance. Requiring companies to establish a legal presence and store data on local servers is an attempt to gain leverage. This move is part of a global trend of governments passing data localization laws to curtail human rights online. It’s not about protecting users—there are better ways to achieve that—this is about governments gaining new powers to police what people say and how they say it.”

Background:

On July 29, the Turkish parliament adopted a law regulating social media platforms with over one million daily users, including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. The “Law on the Arrangement of Internet Publication and Combating Crimes Committed Through These Publication,” which is expected to take effect on October 1, requires foreign social media companies to establish a legal representative in the country and store data on local servers. These local representatives and servers are much more vulnerable to state surveillance and coercion. Companies that do not comply face five stages of escalating penalties, including fines, advertising bans, and bandwidth limitations of up to 90 percent. The law also outlines a new legal process for removing content that violates Turkish law, which contains several provisions that defy international human rights norms regarding freedom of expression. Companies that do not remove content deemed “offensive” within 48 hours can face fines exceeding $700,000.

The law comes amidst declining internet freedom in the country. Since May, over 500 people have been detained for social media posts perceived as undermining the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. According to Freedom House’s recent special report, “Perceptions towards Freedom of Expression in Turkey,” the Turkish government’s restrictive policies have not only weakened the public’s trust in traditional and new media, but have also increased anxiety regarding government surveillance of online activities.

Moreover, this law is part of a wider trend of governments requiring social media companies to store users’ data on local servers, where it can be more easily accessed by security agencies. Freedom House’s new report, “User Privacy or Cyber Sovereignty?” explores the human rights implications of these laws, including in Turkey.

Turkey is rated Not Free in Freedom in the World 2020 and Not Free in Freedom on the Net 2019.

Freedom House Press Release

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