Jan 032018
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

Originally published at MintPressNews

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks at the company's headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. Facebook wants to get more of the world's more than 7 billion people online through a partnership with some of the world’s largest mobile technology companies. Facebook Inc. announced a partnership called Internet.org on Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks at the company’s headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. Facebook wants to get more of the world’s more than 7 billion people online through a partnership with some of the world’s largest mobile technology companies. Facebook Inc. announced a partnership called Internet.org on Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Internet content is neither “open” nor “equal” when Facebook, Twitter, and Google themselves are guilty of censoring or throttling information and material on their platforms, at will and with zero accountability to users.

SCHOHARIE COUNTY, NEW YORK (Analysis) – In a conversation I overheard recently, one of many such discussions that are being waged nowadays, the topic was professional basketball player Enes Kanter, a member of the NBA’s New York Knicks and a native of Turkey. Kanter, an outspoken critic of the increasingly autocratic Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan through such mediums as Twitter, is facing a four-year prison sentence in absentia in Turkey, a sentence sought after by prosecutors for “insulting the president.”

In the discussion I was party to, a group of liberal New Yorkers blamed Kanter’s predicament on none other than … Donald Trump. We were told Trump is a “good friend” of the “Turkish dictator” and “envious of his dictatorial ways,” which he “wants to bring to America.” Turkey’s worsening relationship with the United States was ignored, as well as the friendship between Erdoğan and former president Barack Obama, which has been confirmed by Obama himself.

What does this have to do with net neutrality? Nothing and everything. This mentality is increasingly prevalent in public discourse today, where Trump is often cited as the sole and only source of anything that is rotten in our society, while the actions of his predecessors are conveniently ignored or overlooked. This is not a defense or an attack of Trump, simply an observation regarding the level of present-day political discourse.

It also brings us to the issue of net neutrality.

Earlier this month, the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) five commissioners, in a 3-2 vote along partisan lines, voted to repeal Title II net neutrality regulations that classified broadband service as a public utility, just like traditional copper-wire landline telephone service. Title II rules provided the FCC with broad regulatory authority, which Republicans, including FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, cited as the main reason for their opposition, regardless of what their true motivations may have been.

Of course, blame towards Pai quickly turned into blame against Trump and his administration, as Trump designated Pai as FCC chairman earlier this year. But it bears pointing out that Pai was originally appointed to the commission by Obama, an appointment that was unanimously approved by the Senate in May 2012. Pai won a second five-year term, retroactive to July 1, 2016, in a Senate vote in October that included “yea” votes from four Democrats, who cited Pai’s efforts to boost rural broadband availability. In other words, both major parties had a hand in the chain of events that led to the repeal.

It is frequently said that we now live in a “post-truth” world. But often it is those tending to favor this term who themselves are guilty of “post-truth,” ascribing blame to one party when there’s plenty of responsibility to be shared across the political spectrum. It would seem that the favored usage of this term, at least from academics and media pundits, masks an underlying defense of neoliberal values and attacks on anyone perceived as threatening them. This leads to political attacks that obscure the big picture on a number of important issues, with net neutrality being no exception.

What the current debate and controversy over the repeal of Title II net neutrality rules ignores is the inconvenient truth that, in reality, net neutrality never existed. Truly equal access to information and resources did not exist, even under the net neutrality regime. Indeed, the digital divide — also known as “digital inequality” — is just as real today as it was before the net neutrality regulations went into effect. Above all, the hypocrisy of the supposed leading champions of an “open internet” — companies such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Microsoft — is strikingly evident.

 

Life in the slow lane

A woman uses her smartphone in central London, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012. UK Lawyers say the mounting tally of those arrested and convicted of making offensive comments through social media, shows the problems of a legal system trying to regulate 21st-century communications with 20th century laws. Civil libertarians say it is a threat to free speech in an age when the internet gives everyone the power to be heard around the world. (AP Photo/Sang Tan)

(AP Photo/Sang Tan)

When I am in the United States, I reside in a rural community in upstate New York, not far from the state capital. And it is here in this region, populated largely by farmers, that the only “broadband” access available is via the “4G” mobile networks of two providers. The quotation marks are necessary because such “4G” access is not unlimited. Instead, it is data-capped. Once the monthly “high-speed” quota is surpassed, access is dropped to 2G speeds — at best. Download speeds on one such throttled connection were recently measured at 0.25 Mbps, only about four times faster than an old-style dial-up connection and well short of the minimum level to be considered “broadband” (as of 2015, the FCC set 25 Mbps as the minimum download speed for a connection to be considered “broadband,” up from 4 Mbps previously). There is no cable or fiber optic infrastructure in the immediate area.

An even more significant point is that mobile broadband was never truly covered under net neutrality — up until 2010 in a regulatory sense, and since then through the exploitation of a loophole in the regulations that did not explicitly prohibit a practice known as “zero rating,” in which mobile providers could exclude certain traffic and data from customers’ data caps, thereby affording preferential treatment to content of the provider’s choosing.

In other words, “net neutrality” in its true sense did not apply to mobile broadband usage anywhere in the country — not in urban areas and not in rural communities such as my own, where it is essentially the only locally-available broadband option. Yes, satellite internet is available, but it too is data-capped and prone to slow upload speeds.

The cost of this mobile broadband option is also extravagant, much higher than the cost of wired broadband access in areas where it is available. And, based on my own personal usage experience, it is very likely that mobile providers were also surreptitiously throttling specific websites even further once the 4G data cap was exceeded. While certain websites, even relatively graphics-intensive ones, might still load reasonably quickly, other websites, such as the browser version of the file-sharing app Dropbox, are essentially impossible to use.

 

Never was a “neutral” or “equal” internet

The removals began days after Google, which owns YouTube, trumpeted the arrival of an artificial intelligence program that it said could spot and flag "extremist" videos without human involvement.

The removals began days after Google, which owns YouTube, trumpeted the arrival of an artificial intelligence program that it said could spot and flag “extremist” videos without human involvement.

Millions of Americans have been experiencing online life in the slow lane even during the years that “net neutrality” regulation was in effect. The digital divide, or “digital inequality,” manifests itself in a number of different ways. According to data from the United States Census Bureau, a wide swath of states in the central and southern U.S. have broadband penetration rates of between 61 and 71 percent of the population, while it is predominantly the states of the northeast and the west coast that boast penetration rates exceeding 80 percent.

Furthermore, according to a 2016 FCC report, when net neutrality was still very much in effect, 10 percent of all Americans lack access to broadband service, including 39 percent of rural Americans and 41 percent of Americans living on Tribal lands. And 2015 data from Pew Research demonstrates clear digital inequalities across income, educational, racial, and generational lines, not to mention a clear divide between urban and suburban areas as compared to rural areas.

What this all boils down to is the reality that internet access is not distributed equally, and this also includes internet infrastructure and broadband speeds. Large swaths of the United States, and tens of millions of Americans, remain without access to broadband internet access, or have very limited options — and those on paper only, as is the case in my own community.

Even for households with access to wired broadband services, the “net neutrality” era did not, in reality, result in a free and open internet. Major internet service providers such as Comcast, owners of NBC, began imposing data caps on home subscribers, offering “unlimited” access at a hefty additional cost. “Net neutrality” regulations did nothing to stymie this practice, which can be said to violate one of the core principles of net neutrality, that being the equal treatment of all traffic. When throttling takes place, via either a wired or a mobile connection, by definition it means that certain traffic is being prioritized over other traffic. For instance, if you are a content creator and are facing data capping and throttling, your content is at a disadvantage compared to someone whose connection is not capped or throttled.

Similarly, when internet access is made available in tiers, whether those tiers have to do with the amount of data transferred and consumed per month or the speed of the broadband connection itself, by definition, traffic (and users) are not operating on an equal playing field. Those who are able and willing to pay more will get more. This may not be a concept new to telecommunications — think back to the days of expensive long-distance phone calls, or even to cable or mobile bundles today — but it is a practice that perpetuates “digital inequality” and goes against the spirit of net neutrality.

Using a “smart TV” or a Roku or Amazon Fire stick? Access to content is controlled! And while “smart TV” platforms often do have a built-in browser allowing users to access content other than what’s pre-installed or available via an “app store,” Roku or Amazon Fire sticks and other such technologies are pretty much closed systems, providing users with content that is either pre-installed or installable via a catalog of available applications. This is not an “open” usage of the World Wide Web.

And even during the “utopian” years of net neutrality, companies with deep enough pockets were able to purchase faster lanes for themselves. Netflix as well as Google, for instance, set up agreements known as “peering arrangements” with ISPs, allowing their data direct access to the backbones of these ISPs — and quicker access to consumers.

There was a time when snapping up a monopolistic position in the marketplace and ensuring that your product enjoyed favorable placement — as was the case in the late 1990s with Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser — resulted in antitrust litigation. Nowadays, such practices are par for the course.

 

Champions of the “open internet”: Do as we say, not as we do

Palestinian activist Ahed Tamimi standing up to Israeli soldiers after Israel occupying her land. Her Twitter account was mysteriously removed after she was arrested and tried in an Israeli court for slapping an Israeli soldier who entered her home.

As the threat to Title II net neutrality regulation became greater, and especially after its repeal, certain major technological forces came out and stated their support for an “open internet.” These companies include Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Microsoft, all of which have publicly championed net neutrality and the need for the web to remain “open.

These public proclamations may make for great PR — but they also expose the stunning hypocrisy of these companies, who say one thing but practice another on their own platforms. Internet content is neither “open” nor “equal” when Facebook, Twitter, and Google themselves are guilty of censoring or throttling information and material on their platforms, at will and with zero accountability to users

The examples are many. For instance, there’s Facebook’s ongoing war against so-called “fake news,” with Facebook and its own hand-picked “experts” as sole arbiters of what constitutes “fake” and what does not. Google, in turn, recently altered its search and news-gathering algorithms, and “de-ranked” the Russian news services RT and Sputnik, in its own crusade against “fake news.”

Taking things one step further, YouTube is busy assembling its very own 1984-style Thought Police, via the hiring of 10,000 new staffers who will be tasked with weeding out content deemed to be “extremist” — even though YouTube ultimately plans to turn this important internet-saving task over to automated algorithms in the future. How the determination will be made as to what constitutes “extremist” content, either by human censors or by algorithms, remains unclear.

Not to be outdone in this Orwellian race to the bottom, Twitter has recently announced that it will judge verified users’off-site behavior in its determination as to whether or not to strip users of their verification badges. In other words, Twitter has taken on the role of judge, jury, and moral arbiter of users’ actions even beyond its own corner of the supposedly “open” internet. (Notably, I have attempted to obtain verification on both Facebook and Twitter for my journalistic endeavors and was declined without explanation.)

Going even further still, Twitter in recent days has forged ahead with a purge of numerous Twitter accounts, purportedly stemming mostly from far-right or neo-Nazi groups — an effort that even Rolling Stone called out for being inconsistent and with no discernible logic. This encompassed the removal of accounts that may be politically reprehensible to many but that, in the words of one such user who was targeted, never engaged in “trolling or suggesting violence.”

Nor are trolling and threats of violence the exclusive domain of the far-right or “alt-right,” seemingly the target of this latest purge. What’s more dangerous though is that the “extremist” label could be used to justify the stymieing of any politically inconvenient voice, regardless of ideology.

If this seems far-fetched, consider what the very first line of the Wikipedia entry titled “Censorship of Twitter” states: “Censorship of Twitter occurs in many countries and is approved of and supported by Twitter.” Then consider why a Wikipedia article titled “Censorship of Twitter” even exists in the first place.

Further illustrating the point, journalists and bloggers who have espoused politically sensitive positions — far removed from the globalist, neoliberal orthodoxy but also far removed from any semblance of an association with far-right groups or advocates of violence and other illegal activities — have increasingly become the target of such crackdowns by social media outlets or, at the very least, abuses of systems in place to flag and report postings.

Andrew Korybko — a geopolitical analyst with Sputnik News, Oriental Review, and other outlets — is one such example. A prolific writer on topics ranging from Russia’s strategic maneuverings in the Middle East and Eurasia, to China’s “One Belt, One Road” Initiative, to the Trump administration’s foreign policy, Korybko has been repeatedly barred from posting on Facebook, or posting to Facebook groups, in recent months. His most recent ban came after he posted a recent article of his, published by Oriental Review, challenging the mainstream and politically-correct narrative regarding the arrest of Palestinian activist Ahed Tamimi.

Ironically, Tamimi’s own Twitter account has vanished and is rumored to have been removed by Twitter itself. Similarly, Facebook, citing “hate speech,” recently removed a page titled “Crimes of Britain,” which provided details of crimes perpetrated by Great Britain during its colonial, imperialist past.

Meanwhile, obviously fake accounts on networks such as Facebook and Twitter that are used for trolling go unpunished and operate with impunity, even when reported by multiple users for what, in fact, are flagrant violations of each site’s terms of service. And even when espousing violent, hateful, or racist speech. Behind a purge of far-right accounts though, it does seem that speech that is frequently targeted for censorship more often than not coincidentally seems to align itself with voices of many different political stripes that have in common that they are opposed to globalism, neoliberalism, and imperialism.

Such arbitrary actions on the part of social networks such as Facebook and Twitter have two consequences: they deprive those who are being banned or otherwise suppressed from freely engaging in speech and expressing their opinions and viewpoints; and they deprive the rest of that social network’s community of members from having access to such speech. Instead, the universe of Facebook users and the Twittersphere is expected to take comfort in the fact that it can freely access speech and opinions already deemed by those respective networks to be politically acceptable for the public.

Social networks such as Facebook also suppress speech through more innocuous-seeming methods. For instance, postings of Facebook pages — long a means for individuals and groups and organizations without deep pockets to freely deliver their message to a wide audience — have for a while now been significantly throttled by Facebook. The social network’s algorithms ensure that any posting made by a page appears on the news feed of only a small percentage of the page’s followers — individuals who have actively chosen to like that page, presumably for its content! How can a page administrator increase the audience for its postings? By paying Facebook to “boost” each individual posting.

In other words, page administrators have to pay for preferential treatment of their material. Exactly what we are told will be a consequence of the abolition of net neutrality. And while Facebook and Twitter and Google engage in such practices, each in its own way, they publicly cheerlead for an “open internet.” In turn, the crème de la crème of the neoliberal media world, outlets such as the Amazon-owned Washington Post, have absolutely no qualms about denouncing alternative websites (including MintPress News) as being purveyors of “fake news” while, in the same breath, proclaiming their unwavering support for an “open internet.” The hypocrisy is astounding!

But net neutrality has champions in Congress, elected representatives that stick up for the little guy, correct? The lip service in favor of an “open internet” may be there, but not the action. Case in point: Bernie Sanders, who is calling upon the public to petition the FCC to “protect the open internet.” Not included in the fine print, however, is that Sanders was the number two recipient of donations from Comcast — yes, the very same ISP that places data caps on household internet usage — amongst elected officials and candidates for public office in 2016. Hillary Clinton was far and away the top recipient of donations from Comcast, while Trump did not crack the top 35 (not entirely free of such dependencies, he was 36th) — which consists of a bipartisan Who’s Who, including Jeb Bush, Paul Ryan, Patrick Leahy, Kamala Harris, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

It can be argued that it is the right of private companies, such as Google or Facebook or Twitter, to determine what speech is or is not allowed on their platform or to lobby for or against regulatory regimes such as net neutrality. Fair enough. However, if they choose to make that argument, then they cannot with a straight face argue in favor of an “open internet” as well. It’s either one or the other. Either they will tolerate free speech and the open exchange of ideas and only intervene for the most severe, egregious violations (such as truly credible threats of violence) without any political bias; or they will operate as they do now, and openly contradict the principles of the open internet that they claim to support.

Furthermore, if such companies truly believe in an open internet, then they should believe in the open internet’s ability to self-police and self-filter. A global community of internet users, weeding out what is truly fake from what is real. But is that not precisely what they are afraid of?

 

Is bridging the divide enough?

Top censored 2017

Proponents of net neutrality have recently pointed to the United Kingdom, where it was announced that by 2020 the ability to access high-speed internet will be a legal right for all households and businesses. This is indeed an excellent policy objective for any government. But, what internet will households and businesses have the ability to connect to? Only a few months ago, the very same government, led by Prime Minister Theresa May, stated its intention to openly censor content on the internet — including what can be posted, published, and shared — purportedly in the name of combating terror.

In other words, universal access for all who want it — but access to a network where speech and content is tightly regulated and controlled by the government and subject to its whims.

What this all illustrates is that there are two issues at play that are of equal significance. The first is the right of individuals, households, and businesses to enjoy equal footing on the internet (commonly thought of as “net neutrality” — even if, in a regulatory sense, “net neutrality” as it has been implemented in the United States has primarily referred to the net’s classification as a utility). The second is the right of individuals, households, and businesses to have equal access to the network infrastructure itself. In other words, it is both a matter of free speech and a matter of technology. Both are equally needed for a truly open internet to exist. “Net neutrality,” at best, only provided one of the two — and that not fully or consistently across all providers and platforms.

The question that ultimately must be asked is this: What’s in it for Facebook, Twitter, Google, Microsoft, Amazon and other major players who are so openly championing net neutrality and the “open” internet in words, even if not in deeds? Despite Google’s famous “don’t be evil” slogan, my best guess is that their lip service in favor of an “open” internet has nothing to do with altruism, and everything to do with the bottom line. The likes of Amazon, Google, and Facebook are responsible for large swaths of internet traffic. The elimination of Title II rules may be placing these companies at risk of having to pony up significant monetary sums to ISPs. This argument is most often heard in connection with Netflix, but it is entirely plausible that it is at the root of the support for an “open” internet by these other major players as well.

The future of the current brand of net neutrality may well be at risk, at least in the United States. Or it may very well be that consumers and end users do not notice any significant changes and ISPs instead decide to go after the major originators of most of the traffic on their networks, rather than (further) alienating consumers. It may also be the case that the FCC’s repeal of Title II net neutrality, said to be based on shaky legal footing, could be delayed or struck down in court. Time will tell, and the public has a responsibility to do its part. In order to claim, though, that we are losing an open and equal internet, we would have had to have one in the first place.

Oct 022014
 

Posted by SnakeArbusto and greydogg, 99GetSmart

Written by Turkish political analyst / blogger, Gürkan Özturan:

couple

A documentary film called “Until Globe Surface Becomes the Face of Love” tells the story of resistance against state repression during the Gezi Park protests of June 2013 in Turkey. The director, Reyan Tuvi, has worked on scenes recorded at ground zero in real-time protests and reflected on the multicultural atmosphere in Gezi Park during the uprising, telling the story of different characters who have contributed to the struggle for the sake of lifestyles that they dream of and to change their destiny.

Yet, when the film was brought before the primary jury and got approved as one of the 15 finalists, it was taken off the shortlist due to legal concerns. The explanation stated that the film violates Articles 125 and 299 of the Turkish Penal Code.

The quoted articles read as follows:

TPC 125:

1) Anyone who undermines the honour, dignity or respectability of another person or who attacks a person’s honour by attributing to them a concrete act or a fact, or by means of an insult shall be sentenced to imprisonment for a term of three months to two years, or punished with a judicial fine. In order to convict for an insult made in the absence of the victim, the act must have been witnessed by at least three persons.

(2) If the act is committed by means of a spoken, written or visual message addressing the victim, the perpetrator shall be sentenced to the penalties set out above.

(3) If the offence of insult is committed:

a) against a public official in connection with their duty;

b) in response to the expression of religious, political, social, philosophical beliefs, thoughts and opinions, in response to an individual’s changing or attempting to propagate their religious, political, social, philosophical beliefs, thoughts and opinions, or in response to an individual’s compliance with the requirements and prohibitions of their religion;

c) by reference to the holy values of a person’s religion, the penalty shall be not less than one year.

(4) (Amended by Law 5377 of 29 June 2005 /Article 15) Where the offence of insult was committed in public, the penalty shall be increased by one sixth.

(5) (Amended by law 5377 of 29 June 2005 /Article 15) In the case of insults to public officials in connection with their efforts working as a committee, the offence shall be deemed to have been committed against all committee members. In such a case, the provisions related to concatenated offences shall be applied.

TPC 299

(1) Anyone who insults the President of the Republic shall be imprisoned for a term of from one to four years.

(2) (Amended by Law 5377 dated 29 June 2005/Article 35) Where the offence is committed in public, the sentence shall be increased by one sixth.

(3) Initiation of a prosecution for this offence shall be subject to authorization by the Minister of Justice.

Members of the primary jury also read out a press statement telling the public at large that they consider this act of bringing the film under penal code investigation serves the purposes of censorship. When even the jury declares this kind of action as censorship, there is not much to be debated on the side of the state representatives.

The primary jury’s statement is as follows:

“As the jury of 51st Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival, Competition for National Documentary, out of all the lists of films, we have selected 15 films for the finals and notified the festival management. We then came to learn that one of the films has been disqualified for the reason that it violates two clauses of the Turkish Penal Code, Articles 125 and 299, with its content.

We, the primary jury, consider this kind of an action – a film being disqualified from the shortlist due to its investigation through the Turkish Penal Code – as censorship. Even though we have shared with the festival management that this is unacceptable and requested that the situation be corrected, these concerns and request have been discarded. We thus declare here that we do not recognize such censorship and neither do we want to be part of it.”

Currently there are still hundreds of thousands of websites, books, films, and songs banned in Turkey. And this film about one of the most honorable periods of Turkish history is yet another brick in the wall of censorship. But still, just as we the “Internetophiles” had protested when the censorship bill was brought to the Parliament floor, the primary jury at this film festival also say they do not recognize the censorship.

More stories by Gürkan Özturan @ http://theradicaldemocrat.wordpress.com

More stories about Turkey @ http://99getsmart.com/category/turkey/

Jul 032014
 

Posted by snakearbusto and greydogg, 99GetSmart

Written by Turkish political analyst / blogger, Gürkan Özturan:

640x480-netclean

Due to legal obstacles in prohibiting social media shares from political dissidents in Turkey, the government has a new strategy: to act as internet pirates. Much different than the political pirate movement, Turkey will now try to hack into ISPs’ systems and surveil on users’ browsing/sharing habits. With this aim, recently the internet watchdog has sent “secret orders” note to ISPs, to prepare necessary software infrastructure in order to detect the users that share unwanted content on social media platforms. Daily Taraf’s Tunca Ogreten’s article reveals government’s plans to intervene in internet users’ privacy and basic freedoms yet again.

The method to intervene in between the user agreement which secures privacy of the user regarding the service s/he signs up for, will hack into the HTTPS protocol and surveil on user habits. The government’s request from ISSs to establish a bug that will work as a spyware is planned to enable browsing all user behavior and data without his/her 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.

ISPs will be declared Guilty, not the State

Taraf writes that an ISP manager who does not want to share his name states that s/he has tried telling the TIB authorities that HTTPS security protocol breach is unlawful and a crime but internet watchdog still wants to carry on with the spying plans. The blunt answer from TIB is “there are countries that are able to breach HTTPS traffic, figure it out and do the same.” ISPs state that this is going to be a major violation of human rights and will create security risks. However the strangest part may be that TIB does not install this system by its own; demands the private companies to do it. When it becomes possible to intervene in banking processes and millions of users’ accounts get drained, the internet watchdog that is probably after political surveillance and censorship, will not even be responsible for causing a crash in the economy. On the other hand, the internet regulations bill that is updated last January allows such applications as the law is not clear as to how state will block access to certain content.

Putting Students under Pressure

Another new regulation regarding use of internet is prepared to put more pressure on the most vibrant protesting group in the country: the students. In a country where distribution of wealth is quite uneven, millions of students are urged to live in state-run dormitories, however with the new regulations if a student criticizes government policies or complains of the conditions of universities/dormitories that student will be kicked out of the place. In case of a mass protest at a university or a dormitory, the minister of youth will be allowed to close down the dormitories for a time the minister pleases.

The new regulations and preparations do not cite what methods will be used to surveil on students media, social media appearance. However in certain crowds there are parallels being drawn between real-time censorship, interventions and surveillance, and the recently revealed NetClean software purchase.

More stories by Gürkan Özturan @ http://theradicaldemocrat.wordpress.com

More stories about Turkey @ http://99getsmart.com/category/turkey/

Jun 212014
 

Posted by snakearbusto and greydogg, 99GetSmart

Written by Turkish political analyst / blogger, Gürkan Özturan:

Is the Gothenborg-based NetClean software as innocent as it is presented or is it used for silencing political dissent?

nocensor-636x265

Are Turkey’s notorious attempts to limit freedom of expression on the Internet adopting yet another powerful tool? This is the question that comes to mind when reading the news of the Swedish digital security company NetClean’s possible deal with the Turkish government. It was announced on a pro-government media outlet, Daily Sabah, that the government is to purchase the software for €40 million in order to combat “unwanted content” in the digital public space. As usual, the excuse given to cover the censorship is “child pornography.”

Since last year’s Gezi Park protests and protesters’ intensive use of social-media tools to organize and regroup, Turkey’s government has been taking steps – including a full ban – to discourage millions from using social media to spread political dissent and criticism of government policies. As all other forms of public space and media are under almost absolute control of the governing AKP, social-media platforms and the Internet still serve as the only tool citizens have to express themselves with a degree of freedom.

The head of the Turkish government, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, declared that Twitter was a “menace to society, to all societies,” upon which the government began seeking new ways to prevent the use of the platform for political criticism. The excuse presented was that “all kinds of immorality takes place there, families get separated; this is against the party’s conservative agenda.”

By definition, NetClean presents itself as a company working on software that aims to create a more secure society in the digital sphere by scanning, analyzing and blocking content. Moreover, its primary goal is supposedly to fight child pornography. The software is purchased by governments and ISPs around the world. Yet at what expense?

When one considers the world map of censorship and surveillance, it is not hard to guess which countries would be among the top buyers of this software. The software extends the effects of censorship a step further than WhiteBox initially did. WhiteBox is a software application based on URL blocking that allows users to browse content through filters, using DNS spoofing and ban lists of unwanted URLs. While WhiteBox can be used globally to combat child pornography, various governments have declared intentions to purchase even more advanced software to block content in real time.

In Turkey’s case, one has to remember Prime Minister Erdoğan’s approach to social media platforms, calling them a “source of immorality” and threatening to “eradicate twitter-mwitter all of them.” Moreover, it is important to remember that Turkey’s top general called social media “a threat to state order.”

Last December was a month of chaos for Turkey’s intelligence service. Not only did the intelligence service fail to prevent the spread of news of Turkey’s biggest corruption fiasco yet, but it also proved incapable of detecting the source of the information leak. The leaked sound recordings were allegedly of the Prime Minister’s phone calls with several people, asking for bribes and telling his son to hide the money before a police raid. Although Turkey’s top science institute declared that the sound recordings were a montage, sound/video clips continued leaking and circulating online for months.

Upon the intelligence service’s inability to combat such information leaks, the governing party AKP passed a controversial censorship bill in the parliament in February, allowing state officials to ban Web sites with a simple order, with no requirement of a court warrant or statement of a reason for the blocking. Although this action is in direct violation of the European Convention on Human Rights and the Constitution of the Republic of Turkey, the government has repeated its intention to block “unwanted content” and even remove it from the Web.

Currently Turkey leads the world in demands for removal of content from global digital corporations, even though in most cases these demands are in violation of freedom of expression or the right to acquire information. If the Turkish government showed more respect for democratic governance and human rights, perhaps use of this software would not have caused this level reaction from notable intellectuals, academics, NGOs and individual citizens. But censorship always seems to wear the mask of providing more security, while in fact stripping citizens of yet more liberties.

A question that needs to be answered is why Sweden, a country that claims to promote human rights and stand up for human dignity globally, has agreed to sell software that will obviously target political opposition in Turkey. Looking at current uses of censorship mechanisms in Turkey, it can be seen that content regarding Armenian newspapers, Kurdish political movements, LGBT rights and lifestyle, opposition parties’ Web sites and critical articles, anti-racist Web sites, etc. have been banned. One can’t help but wonder how many of these groups Sweden supports as a nation, yet will contribute to repressing in Turkey… Moreover, when one considers the fact that the company was founded with donations from Queen Sylvia of Sweden, the question arises of what statement Sweden’s royal head of state is making.

Lastly, it might make one issue very clear: Turkey is one of the top countries for censorship of pornography, yet also tops the charts for searches for porn content. The Turkish government cooperates with global allies to combat child pornography, yet unfortunately Turkey is the leading country when it come to searches for child porn. Obviously blocking access or applying censorship does not solve a sociological problem emerging from a mentality of prohibition in the country. If the Turkish government were sincere in protecting children, would it not be more useful to prohibit child labor and child marriage and imprison pedophile rapists rather than letting them go? When children are subjected to bullying and violence on the streets, in schools, and at home and are killed by policemen on streets, how sincere is the government’s attempt to implement a censorship policy with the excuse of combating child pornography when at the same time it declares political dissent illegal?

Many governments use the excuse of protecting children, but somehow the policy rapidly turns into a centralized structure of censorship and surveillance – a system of digital detention of citizens. While decentralization of the Internet is vital for the spread and defense of our liberties and knowledge as global citizens, governments’ policy of blocking access, removing content and censoring the Internet is the greatest obstacle to the advancement of democratic governance globally.

More stories by Gürkan Özturan @ http://theradicaldemocrat.wordpress.com

More stories about Turkey @ http://99getsmart.com/category/turkey/

Mar 072014
 

Posted by SnakeArbusto and greydogg, 99GetSmart

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Written by Turkish political analyst / blogger, Gürkan Özturan:

Recently in an article, Gigi Alford wrote “Russia goes for gold in internet regulation,” and I was going to suggest that Turkey is a close runner-up. However Erdoğan made a comment that raised the hopes of “censorists” in Turkey for the top place in the Censor’Olympics – Russia being the biggest competition. In the past few weeks, we have suffered the adoption into law of two major draconian bills that allow government censorship and surveillance on society. But recent remarks by Erdoğan go well beyond that, talking of blanket censorship.

Already Turkey is a country of heavy regulations regarding expression of opinion, with surveillance mechanisms profiling and labeling citizens according to their ethnic, religious, and political backgrounds. However, as Erdoğan has revealed his true intentions, apparently there will be no more need for profiling and labeling people. Perhaps after an initial trial of a few weeks, the results were too scary; perhaps there was actually a great majority of the country who are discontented with the government and the only way to stop this discontent from spreading would be to shut down the Internet.

In a country that was declared “partly free” even before the Occupy Gezi protests of last year, with the new regulations, implementations, and intentions of the government, it seems as if Turkey will make it to the “not free” list and take the gold medal in the Censor’Olympics!

Here are Erdoğan’s own words regarding social media from last night’s TV interview where he declared his intentions to ban all social media platforms in the aftermath of local elections on March 30th, when mass protests are expected to take place and the National Security Council has already granted permission to declare martial law in case of widely spread mass protests in the country:

“We are determined on this subject. We will not leave this nation at the mercy of YouTube and Facebook and other kinds [of social media]. We will take the necessary steps in the strongest way. That includes banning them. Because these corporations/institutions encourage all kinds of immorality, spying, and espionage in order to keep making profits. There are no limits [on social media]; freedom must not be understood in an unlimited sense. These people exist in all state institutions as well, but our initial step is to remove them from their administrative boards, because once they are gone the process will go smoothly to lower levels. Afterwards, the true meaning of fear will hold them captive! Then they will start wondering where they will flee to. When their leaders are gone, they will all feel the fear…”

More stories by Gürkan Özturan @ http://theradicaldemocrat.wordpress.com

More stories about Turkey @ http://99getsmart.com/category/turkey/

Feb 262014
 

Posted by SnakeArbusto and greydogg, 99GetSmart

Written by Turkish political analyst / blogger, Gürkan Özturan:

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Prime Minister Erdoğan, in his weekly address to his group in Parliament, defended the bills expanding censorship and surveillance by referring to the recently released tapes of phone conversations that revealed corruption at extreme levels. The scandalous phone conversation between the Prime Minister and his son can be accessed here (http://erdogansdollars.blogspot.com.tr/).

Minutes after the phone conversation was uploaded on YouTube, people started downloading the video, and if they were unable to do that they started recording the voice on their phones. Only a few hours later, the original video was censored and in the morning it was not possible to browse to the exact URL of the tape.

The people who downloaded the video from YouTube, started uploading from different usernames and to other platforms as well. While the government was busy trying to accomplish Mission Impossible and censor the leaked phone conversation, people have found a new way of getting around censorship. Throughout the day, people have reported from all over the city that their cab driver put on an audio CD of the phone conversation when they took a cab, that some old gentleman on the bus shouted out “this is my debt to fellow citizens!” and turned on loudspeakers to broadcast the downloaded video, or that a lady on the ferry asked for the attention of all citizens who cared about the taxes they pay for the state’s services and used her phone’s loudspeakers to let everyone listen.

Before 24 hours had passed after the video was uploaded, 2.5 million people had viewed the original video and millions of others saw duplicates. And after work shifts at 7 p.m., at least 10 cities had mass protests calling for Erdoğan to resign. Police attacked with all the hatred they had towards peaceful protests, yet more and more people joined in. The Police may be the protector of the government, yet the people are furious to see one man calling his son to “melt the wealth” to avoid arrest, while citizens at home turn heaters down a bit more so they don’t spend everything they earn to pay the gas bill. Once this information is out there, there is absolutely no way of going back, as the people will find a way to spread this information.

When censorship aims for blanket coverage of information, other ways of spreading it emerge. People have reverted to Samizdat-style information sharing via Bluetooth on public transport, e-mail attachments, cassettes, and CDs. Censorship is a lost cause to begin with and in the end only helps the content reach more people.

More stories by Gürkan Özturan @ http://theradicaldemocrat.wordpress.com

More stories about Turkey @ http://99getsmart.com/category/turkey/

Oct 162013
 

Posted by SnakeArbusto and greydogg, 99GetSmart

Written by Turkish political analyst / blogger, Gürkan Özturan

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Since the first days of the unrest in Syria, Turkey has been deploying troops to its borderline in order to prevent any spillovers, shootings or basic “misunderstanding” at the border zones. As the Syrian conflict escalated into a civil war, the number of Turkish troops has risen to the point that one would think a war is about to break out at any moment. The Turkish government had been promoting the necessity for an intervention against Syria, which would result in a “hopeful” reconstruction period similar to that in Iraq – from which Turkey’s economy has benefited a lot over the last decade.

While Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan was declaring that Assad’s legitimacy is in question due to his Alawite religious beliefs in a Sunni-majority Syria, there were also brief moments of tension occurring at the bordering towns and cities. From the day a Turkish fighter jet was shot down over Syrian airspace, the Turkish government’s intentions for an intervention began to have louder and more visible support from within the country. However, while the number of people who favored a possible war with Syria was on the rise, there came the deadliest terrorist attack against Turkey in the country’s history: the May 11th Reyhanli blasts.

Two successive explosions took place in the center of Reyhanli, a town neighboring Syria, in the Turkish province of Hatay. The people of Reyhanli were furious after the attacks, as they were fed up with the government’s hostile policies regarding the Syrian regime and the power plays in the region. Instead of boosting support for intervention, the blasts had the opposite effect. Anti-war protests quickly turned into anti-government protests and a ban on media coverage of the attacks and the protests in their aftermath was declared by the government.

While the government officials avoided visiting the twice-stricken Reyhanli, anger grew in the region. Artists and intellectuals formed volunteer groups to visit the town and talk to locals, get their opinions, and write online reports. The agenda was focused on the attacks and the protests in their aftermath; since the national media were banned from broadcasting or publishing, the social media took over. It was basically this attempt at censorship that created the hunger for the secret files that were released by RedHack on 22nd of May. As the secret files were leaked, the popularity of the released documents proved that society at large perceived the attacks to be the most salient issue needing discussion by the whole nation.

The leaked documents contained information regarding the pre-attack environment and the blasts, revealed and that state officials had been forewarned. As the media swarmed over this subject as hastily and discreetly as possible, the government was quick to declare that the leaked information was nothing to take seriously, and not even worth publishing in the media. However, the government of Turkey struck a Janus pose: While discounting the value of the leaked information, at the same time it claimed that a soldier was under arrest for leaking secret state intelligence – thus seeming to admit the authenticity of the documents.

After the whistle was blown by the socialist-Marxist hackers RedHack, anti-war protests were held and more and more people showed their discouragement publicly. Discussions in certain circles even went to the point of claiming that RedHack alone prevented a hasty intervention against Syria. While the RedHack informant is still unknown, the anonymous hackers seem to be held in high regard, being referred to as “war-preventers.”

Basically many factors contributed to the erosion of support for an intervention. Yet it is possible to say that the deadliest terrorist attacks Turkey has ever experienced were a trigger that changed everything. Meanwhile  government officials did not cancel their plans for entertainment and attended planned wedding celebrations and enjoyed their night; in the following days, government officials avoided visiting the blast-stricken town; the leaked information showed the government’s involvement in the explosions; an innocent soldier, Private Kali, was made the scapegoat of all troubles and has been imprisoned and tortured since then; the Prime Minister himself made a discriminatory statement: “In Reyhanli, 52 Sunni-Muslim citizens were martyred by Syria,” causing further sorrow for the Alawite minority in Turkey…

All in all, currently the one to suffer the most among the victims of Reyhanli is  probably Utku Kali, the private who was declared responsible for the leak of intelligence and for the whistleblower documents coming to light. Even with him in prison, RedHack continues to receive intelligence leaks from the Turkish Armed Forces, and Utku continues to suffer inhumane conditions and treatment for no reason. Seeing how the national, centralized media and culture can be prone to censorship and constraint from political authority, one cannot help but wonder if the social media can contribute to the eventual freeing of Utku Kali as it did to the “prevention” of a war with Syria.

More stories by Gürkan Özturan @ http://radicaldemocrat.blog.com

More stories about Turkey @ http://99getsmart.com/category/turkey/