The Free Internet Project

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Turkey amends Internet Law to Impose Stiff Requirements on "Social Network Providers"

The Turkish government is set to amend the existing Internet Law No. 5651 (on the Regulation of Broadcasts via the Internet and the Prevention of Crimes Committed Through such Broadcasts). According to VOA, after his daughter and her husband were insulted on social media, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared in July 2020 that social media are “immoral” and will be “completely banned or controlled.” 

Turkey's new Internet law, which goes into effect October 1, requires social media companies--called "social network providers" under the new law--like TikTok and Facebook to register local offices in Turkey, subjecting them to local laws and tax regulations. Social media companies would face crippling restriction on their bandwidths if the authority found them noncompliant with the new regulation. Failure to comply will also result in substantial fines issued to their mandatory offices in Turkey, once the new legislation has passed.

Social network platforms will also have to store data of Turkish users in Turkey (i.e., data localization). In addition, the social network providers that are accessed more than 1 million times daily are required (1) to have a notice-and-takedown procedure in which people can submit a notice of a violation of rights based on content on the network, and the company must remove the offending material within 48 hours, and (2) to publish transparency reports regarding the notices and takedowns. Accordingly to Lexology, "An administrative fine of TRY 5 million (approx. EUR 615,000) may be imposed for incompliance with takedown request handling and TRY 10 million may be imposed for incompliance with the reporting requirements." Finally, the new law recognizes that people in Turkey have a right to be forgotten and can request their names be removed from webpages as ordered by a court.

Critics of the new law fear that it will be used to censor political dissent. "If the social media platforms decide to establish offices in Turkey, then they will be compelled to remove the content . . . [subject to] so-called personal rights violations," said Professor Yaman Akdeniz, co-founder of the Freedom of Expression Society, an advocacy group in Istanbul, told VOA.

Such attempt to curtail the access to online medias is not unprecedented in Turkey, with over 400,000 web pages banned and thousands of people prosecuted for their posts, according to VOA. In response, people in Turkey utilized VPNs and proxies to counteract the suppression of Internet censorship. However, limiting bandwidths will likely overpower the use of VPN in restraining the accessibility to online contents that the government deems problematic. Devlet Bahçeli, the president of the MHP (Nationalist Movement Party), has already called for state intervention in the use of VPN and proxies, to ensure “the clean use of social media.” He also promised his staunch support for any law proposal in the wake of the Turkish Grand National Assembly, further dimming the light of hope for an accessible and free internet.

The fast-growing popularity of social media in Turkey has drawn people from mainstream medias for their news updates. Atilla Yesilada of Global Source Partners told VOA that one of Erdogan’s primary incentives to propose the stringent legislation is to regain the control of “the flow of information.” Professor Akdeniz also observed that news websites are at risk of facing state censorship and manipulation to “the government’s past injustices, corruption, and irregularity allegations.”  However, as the young generation in Turkey has grown fond of the social media, the attempt to restrain the internet may backfire and alienate those young voters from President Erdogan, warned Yesilada.

Turkey's new Internet law is modeled on Germany's controversial Network Enforcement Act, or NetzDG for short, as explained by EFF: The German "law mandates social media platforms with two million users to name a local representative authorized to act as a focal point for law enforcement and receive content take down requests from public authorities. The law mandates social media companies with more than two million German users to remove or disable content that appears to be “manifestly illegal” within 24 hours of having been alerted of the content."

In summary, Turkey's new Internet law has the following components:

  • Social network providers that are accessed in Turkey more than 1 million times daily must have a local office in Turkey.
  • They must have local storage of data of users in Turkey.
  • They must have a notice and takedown process that allows users to send a notice of unlawful material or violation of rights, after which the company has 48 hours to remove it.
  • They must process right-to-be-forgotten removal of content as ordered by a court. 

For more about Turkey's controversial new law for social network providers, visit Lexology.

--written by Yucheng Cui

Tik Tok is all the rage, so why did India ban it?

Tiktok is a social medial platform owned by a Chinese firm named Bytedance. The app was first developed in China, but is growing more and more popular especially among teens all over the world for its combination of music, dance and peculiar humor through creating and sharing short videos. Another popular feature is live-streaming, which grants real-time interation between the host and the audience. Users do not even need to speak English to become an overnight hit with millions of followers on Tiktok. 

Tiktok has become phenomenal. The idea of producing short clips is not new – Snapchat and Instagram had similar functions too. And creating videos has been around since YouTube. But, with an enormous user base in China, this new contender surpassed other video-sharing sites and gained incredible popularity. Presently, Tiktok has over 500 million active users worldwide. Tiktok's worldwide success as an Internet platform is rare for a Chinese-based company. China’s strict internet restriction is well-known. By putting up firewalls, mainstream Western social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, are inaccessible in China. 

India announced the controversial decision to ban TikTok in its borders. Why? As the border clash between China and India escalated, the Indian government recently banned 59 Chinese apps, including Tiktok, citing concerns over activities prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of India, according to the New York Times.  Alternative Indian native platforms such as Glance and Roposo are eager to seek new users after Tiktok’s leave, but watchdog groups are concerned that Indian local apps may also be censored and controlled by the government or exploited for political propaganda. While banning Tiktok could also be a token of revenge against China for the border skirmish, the ban could also be viewed as India’s determination in safeguarding its citizens’ data from foreign manipulation.

Taking the cue from India’s decision, the US is considering a ban on Tiktok too. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned the Americans not using the app unless “you want your private information in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party,” indicating the app is secretly sponsoring users’ data to the Chinese government.  

Having a reputation of exercising a tight grip over the internet environment, the Chinese government is frequently accused of privacy breaches. Bytedance, the Chinese firm that owns Tiktok, encountered several challenges as it expanded market worldwide. In February 2020, Bytedance was fined £4.2million by the US Federal Trade Commission for illegally collecting personal information from children under 13 without requiring parent consent. On July 3, 2020, the head of the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office announced that Tiktok was undergoing a similar investigation regarding protections of children’s personal data as its open message system permit adults to directly contact children and thus subject children to risks such as online solicitations and harassments.

Of course, data breaches in social media are not uncommon in the modern digital age. Facebook was accused multiple times for harvesting users’ private information without their consent. Thus, banning Tiktok in the name of privacy protection sounds extreme since other breaches of data by social media have not resulted in banning an entire platform in a country. 

Some users have expressed a suspicion that the major impetus for the US ban on Tiktok was the significant role that Tiktok played during the BlackLivesMatter rally. In the pandemic era, Tiktok fostered new political expressions. For example, activists who could not march on the street in person, created videos with hashtag #blacklivesmatter to demonstrate cyber solidarity for racial injustice. As CNN reported, users on Tiktok also live-streamed the street protest, documented police assaulting peaceful demonstrators.  Tiktok lowered the barrier of communication, allowing users from all over the globe to share content and exchange ideas. Apart from showing cute dogs, teenagers’ funny dance steps, and other mundane occurrences, Tiktok also entered the political sphere even there is a lack of a number of politicians being active on the site. Despite the alleged privacy and national security concerns, it is one of the fastest and most unfiltered ways for people to spread messages.

“Any kind of public policy response which is premised on grounds of national security needs to emerge from well-defined criteria, which seems to be absent here,” executive director of the Internet Freedom Foundation Mr. Gupta said to the New York Times. Banning may be a quick fix, but if authorities could ban an app in the name of protecting citizens’ data without showing clear evidence supporting the alleged claim or legal authority for such an extreme action, it sets a dangerous precedent that would greatly impair internet freedom. Of course, there remains the tension that popular Western based social media platforms are still banned in China. 

-written by Candice Wang




Singapore set to enact "fake news" law, Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act

Singapore's government is set to enact a controversial bill titled Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act that would recognize broad authority for the government to order individuals and ISPs to remove "false statements of fact" aka "fake news" online.  The bill can be dowloaded here.  The Parliament is expected to pass the bill next month, ahead of the upcoming elections.   Commentators and human rights organizations expressed concern that the bill authorizes the government to decide what content is false and to order corrections and removals of such content. 

Section 7 of Part 2 of the law makes it a crime for people from doing an act "in or outside Singapore" "in order to communicate in Singapore a statement knowing or having reason to believe that--(a) it is a false statement of fact;" provided that it meets one of the following conditions in subsection (b): 

Section 8 makes it a crime to make or alter bots "with the intention of (a) communicating, by means of a bot, a false statement of fact in Singapore; or (b) enabling any other person to communicate, by means of a bot, a false statement of fact in Singapore.

Part 3 of the Act grants broad powers for "any Minister" to issue a "Part 3 Direction" requiring correction or stop communication of the offending content.  If the person does not abide by the order, the Ministry may order ISPs to block access to the content.  

LIkewise, Part 4 authorizes any Minister to issue "Part 4 Directions" to ISPs to comply with a "targeted correction direction," "disabling direction," or "general correction direction."  Both Parts 3 and 4 recognize the right to appeal the Directions to the High Court.  

India's government blocks 857 websites for pornography and other reasons

India's Department of Telecommunications reportedly issued a secret order on July 31, 2015 that orders ISPs in India to disable access to 857 websites.  Pursuant to Section 7913(b) of the Information Technology Act, the government has the authority to censor content for "morality" and "decency."  Some of the 857 websites reportedly include pornography, but other sites include College Humor and other non-pornographic sites.  India has a history of censoring the Internet.  [More from IBN live

India Supreme Court rules censorship law Section 66A unconstitutional violation of free speech

On March 24, 2015, the Indian Supreme Court rendered an important free speech decision (running over 100 pages in length) that invalidated an amendment to the Information Technology Act known as Section 66A.

Kakao Talk CEO Lee apologizes for allowing South Korean law enforcement to access user information in crackdown against online rumors

Sirgoo Lee, the co-CEO of Kakao Talk, the leading instant-messaging service in South Korea, held a press conference to apologize to Kakao's 35 million users, many of whom had reportedly began leaving the popular service due to privacy concerns.  This year, the South Korean law enforcement started cracking down on false and malicious online posts.  The government effort was, in part, a response to unflattering posts related to President Park Geun-Hye, who complained about insults and rumors made about her online, especially related to her handling of the tragic Sewol ferry capsizing.


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