Once again a discussion broke out about internet freedom. The cause of the uproar is the plan of Turkish authorities to introduce a system for internet filtering. Starting August 22, there will be four packages internet users can subscribe to: children, family, domestic and standard. Standard will be the normal setting and it provides Turkish internet users with the internet access they have now. If you want a filter, for example because you want your child to be protected against filthy stuff, you have to subscribe to the applicable filter. All voluntarily, nothing mandatory.
Internet filters are used everywhere in the world. In my home country, the Netherlands, conservative Christians can for example download a programme that blocks all sites that insult God and are otherwise contrary to their beliefs. The filter is developed and distributed by a Christian group. And worldwide there are many filters like that, often aimed at protecting children. Personally I would never use an internet filter, just like I wouldn’t visit a library that offers only books that the library finds suitable for me to read. But if people themselves choose to use it, there is not much wrong with it.
So, nothing wrong with the internet filter plan in Turkey? There is. What is wrong with it is that it is government imposed. A government authority, the Prime Minister’s Information Technologies Board (BTK), defines the packages and will not make public which sites will be banned with which filters. That is not the job of government. Private parties (providers, NGO’s, individuals, whoever) can develop and spread internet filters, the government should just butt out.
Especially in Turkey, where the state has a totally hopeless record when it comes to internet freedom. Thousands of websites are blocked, bans on sites and communities come and go, and the government even made a plan to ban URLs with certain words in them (the plan was cancelled after too much criticism). So when the BTK says ‘users who want to surf the web freely can do so under the standard package’, we could, ironically, get very happy: apparently starting August 22 they plan not only to introduce filters, but also end all bans that are in place now? I’m afraid not.
The head of BTK is, as quoted by the press, not amused by all the uproar. ‘Putting this topic on the agenda these days is political’, he says (referring to the upcoming elections and to the fact that the new rules were already finalized in February), and: ‘The new regulations are for the benefit of the users’. (Read more here and here.) Crocodile tears. The government can in no way be convincing, and they know it too. Of course people are reacting strongly to yet another state interference in internet access.
On the 15th of May in several cities in Turkey there will be protests for internet freedom in general and against the filter system in particular. It is, to be honest, shocking to see what protesters are saying. ‘This will be the death day of internet in Turkey!’, they shout, and ‘We won’t even be able to access Google anymore!’. Maybe people are really not well informed (and in that case, they should get informed before taking to the streets), or they willingly distort the facts.
I condemn the protesters for their distorted picturing of what’s going on. Facts always take you further than cheap, untrue slogans. But I condemn the government too: they should immediately start focussing on proposing laws to make the internet as open as possible, not on making laws and regulations to restrict, guide or censor access to the world wide web.