Talking Turkey: Is New Internet Law a Danger to Democracy?

Here in the United States, we are accustomed to freedom of speech guaranteed by the First Amendment of our Constitution.

Indeed, this freedom has been interpreted by the courts to include the freedom to speak freely on the Internet, even anonymously. (However, if such speech causes harm, it is possible that anonymity will be unmasked so that the victim of the speech can seek legal redress).

Unfortunately, other countries are not as open in terms of safeguarding the ability of people to speak their minds — and in this case, Turkey is among them.

Internet Censorship and the Turkish Government

With the advent of the Internet and the technological ability to convey thoughts far and wide, some governments are seeking to stifle speech opportunities in order to maintain power and the status quo.

A recent example of this phenomenon takes us to Turkey. The Turkish Parliament, according to USA Today, has voted to enable governmental authorities to censor the Internet at will. The apparent motivation is to thwart dissent, and such a move could strike a serious blow to Turkey’s democracy.

The legislation, which so far has been approved by a show of hands, would permit the blocking of websites by telecommunications authorities without court consideration. Under the bill, ISPs would have to take down objectionable content within four hours and webpages that are deemed to run afoul of Turkey’s telecom authority would be subject to very stiff fines.

On top of this, the law would close workarounds in a country where 40,000 websites already have been blocked over the past seven years, USA Today reports. Moreover, the law would require Internet service providers to maintain the online history of every Turkish Internet user.

Surveillance Concerns

This new legislation has caused concern about excessive surveillance. The apparent motivation behind this bill stems from recent and prior demonstrations and protests in Turkey.

If Turkey goes down this path, it could have a significant effect, given that Turkey has a very high Internet usage rate. In fact, according to USA Today, Turkey has approximately 33 million registered Facebook accounts within a population of about 76 million people.

Usually, speech has a way of coming out, notwithstanding censorship efforts. This is especially true in this new age of technological communications. By trying to stamp out speech, relations within Turkey ultimately could become worse, not better.

Accordingly, and hopefully, a different approach will be developed.

Eric Sinrod is of counsel in the San Francisco office of Duane Morris LLP, where he focuses on litigation matters of various types, including information technology and intellectual property disputes. You can read his professional biography here. To receive a weekly email link to Mr. Sinrod’s columns, please email him at with Subscribe in the Subject line. This column is prepared and published for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author’s law firm or its individual partners.

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The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the author and are not to be construed as legal advice.

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