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Can Turkey Hijack the Internet?

Turkey continues its march toward authoritarianism unabated. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has made clear that not only does he want to become president, but should he assume that office—and there is every reason to suspect he will given both the blind support Turkish Islamists give him and the power over the bureaucracy which he can wield to change the results of close elections—he will not act aloof from politics as the constitution demands, but rather will wield his power to privilege his supporters and punish those who oppose him.

Indeed, Erdoğan is not shy about using whatever power he can accumulate, whether it is constitutional or not. Visiting Istanbul and Ankara late last month, businessmen to a man (or woman) said that should they become involved in politics either directly or by funding a party or cause which contravenes Erdoğan’s vision, they can expect ruinous tax audits and judgments designed to dissuade and ruin. At the height of his purge of the military, one-in-five Turkish generals was in prison, never mind that the supposed evidence against them was blatantly fraudulent. Erdoğan and his then-allies in the Gülen movement controlled security forces and heavily influenced the judiciary—and so simply were not going to allow rule of law to get in the way of his agenda.

The prime minister has reserved special animus toward the free press. Turkey now ranks below Russia in terms of free press and is on a trajectory to fall below even the Islamic Republic of Iran. So much for the model of democracy to which President Obama, and former secretaries of state Hillary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, and Colin Powell once referred. Erdoğan is smart: while he has come down like a ton of bricks on journalists and editors who have dared criticize him or give voice to his opponents, journalists who tow Erdoğan’s line find themselves recipients of millions of dollars in largesse. Some have been so bold as to buy fancy villas alongside the Bosporus when just a few years ago, they were unknown and their journalism job would not suffice to pay the real estate bill. One veteran journalist estimated that only five percent of Turkish journalists working today can be considered professional or ethical in their work.

Erdoğan has previously lashed out at social media and Twitter. As is so often the case with Turkey, real repression follows months after the headline-grabbing bloviating when the international media moves on. Erdoğan, however, doesn’t forget. According to Turkish Internet and privacy experts, it seems that the Turkish government is taking Internet surveillance and censorship to a new level:

Due to legal obstacles to prohibiting social-media sharing by political dissidents in Turkey, the government has a new strategy: to act as Internet pirates… Turkey will now try to hack into ISPs’ systems and surveil users’ browsing/sharing habits. With this aim, recently the Internet watchdog sent a “secret orders” memo to ISPs, to prepare the software infrastructure necessary for detecting users that share unwanted content on social-media platforms. The daily Taraf’s article by Tunca Öğreten reveals the government’s plans to intervene in Internet users’ privacy and basic freedoms yet again.The method for intervening between the user agreement which secures the user’s privacy regarding the service s/he signs up for is to hack into the HTTPS protocol and surveil user habits. The government’s request from ISSs to establish a bug that will work as spyware is planned to enable browsing all users’ behavior and data without their consent. This includes not only the content of social media updates a person shares but also the e-trade flow and all related data; and the system is planned to be open for immediate interventions.

The whole article is worth reading as the Turkish government increases its machinery of repression. And the response from Washington? Crickets.


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