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Turkish Parliament adopts controversial Internet bill

Turkey's Parliament adopted late Feb. 5 a new Internet bill that has been harshly criticized for implementing measures that could potentially further restrict access to the web.

The measures were adopted by the General Assembly after a tense session during which opposition MPs blasted the bill as "censorship."

The bill includes controversial arrangements such as granting the president of the Directorate of Telecommunication (TİB) the authority to block access to sites and pages on his own initiative, in the event of appeals concerning violation of the right to private life. Such a decision would not require approval from a court.

The new arrangements have also caused serious concerns as they would mandate data retention of between one and two years.

The government maintains that the draft bill is designed to “protect the family, children and youth from items on the Internet that encourage drug addiction, sexual abuse and suicide.” It says similar laws exist in Western countries and rejects comparisons to China, notorious for its drastic censorship of the Internet.

The bill also comes as the government faces massive graft allegations and strong criticism for having undertaken works on a judicial bill that increased the executive’s grasp over the judiciary. Many leaks of alleged corruption evidence have been posted online in recent weeks.

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said the new powers for the TİB mean it would be able to "gather communications data about all Internet users without any legal limits or restrictions," with users "never ... able to know when and how this information is gathered."

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also released a statement warning that the measures on will further undermine press freedoms if it passes into law, describing the move as a "slide into Internet authoritarianism" in a country that is the "the leading jailer of journalists worldwide."

Reporters Without Borders said the aim is "to reinforce cyber-censorship, government control of the Internet and surveillance."

The Turkish Industry and Business Association (TÜSİAD) was also critical, saying the proposals "conflict with the principles of checks and balances" and would increase censorship and deter investors.

Last week, Umut Oran, deputy leader of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), was ordered by the TİB to remove a parliamentary question from his website.

The question, which the media was also told to not report on had referred to purported recordings of phone calls involving the prime minister, his son and a minister.

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