The World

The Great Firewall of Turkey

Patrons use computers in an Internet café in Istanbul on Sept. 3, 2009—back when Turks were allowed to visit YouTube.

Photo by Ugur Can/AFP/Getty Images

The Financial Times reports that in the midst of the ongoing corruption investigation feud currently dominating Turkish politics, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s party is looking to expand government control over the Internet:

A legislative proposal put forward by the ruling AK party would give the transport and communication minister the power to block websites deemed to infringe privacy, as well as compelling internet service providers to retain information of their customers’ movements on the net.

In light of Turkey’s trajectory on this issue, this is worrying. An Internet filtering system introduced by the country’s Information Technologies and Communications Authority in 2011 was billed as a system to protect children from pornography, but in a pattern familiar from many other countries, has blocked all manner of objectionable content ranging from keywords related to the separatist Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) to Richard Dawkins’ website.

According to Google’s most recent transparency report, the Turkish government requested the removal of 9,610 items from the Internet in the first half of 2013, the most in the world and about three times as many as the United States, which had the second-most.

Google complied with only 13 percent of Turkey’s requests, which included “a court order to remove any search results linking to information about a political official and sex scandal,” “a Google+ profile picture showing a map of Kurdistan,” and “17 YouTube videos and 109 blog posts that contained content critical of Ataturk.” YouTube was blocked entirely over videos deemed insulting to Ataturk in March. 

Offline, the country has more journalists in jail than any other country, including Iran and China, though as the New York Times reported over the weekend, even with these heavy-handed methods, the government seems to be having a harder time enforcing message discipline in both traditional and social media. Social media seemed to play a major role in the anti-government protests that erupted in Istanbul over the summer, perhaps to an even greater extent than the much-hyped Twitter revolutions of the Arab Spring.