Turkey to give telecoms body more powers over Internet

Twitter, Facebook and YouTube were inaccessible for many users in Turkey Monday, with the Hurriyet newspaper saying that service providers got an order from prosecutors to block those sites (AFP Photo/Ozan Kose)

Istanbul (AFP) - Turkey has moved to impose stricter controls on the Internet by giving its telecoms authority more powers to monitor online users and block websites, a parliamentary source said on Tuesday.

The proposals are contained in a bill submitted to parliament by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and are the latest in a string of government moves testing online freedoms in the aspiring EU member state.

Under a change to an existing law, the telecoms authority TIB will be able to block websites "to protect national security, public order and to prevent crime" without the need for a court order.

The service providers would then have to block the website or remove the content within only four hours, the source told AFP.

The changes also allow the TIB to monitor which users visited which websites and store the information for up to two years.

Previously, only service providers could store the information. The TIB was able to obtain the data only as part of a criminal investigation or upon a court order.

The changes raised eyebrows coming just after Turkey hosted a major UN-backed forum on Internet governance, which was boycotted by several rights groups. They have also been criticised for being too ambiguous.

"The chairman (of TIB), who has no legal liability, can shut down any website he doesn't like, saying it threatens public order," Kerem Altiparmak, an expert at Internet freedom at Ankara University, wrote on Twitter.

The TIB blocked the digital publishing platform ISSUU on Saturday after a Swedish magazine featured on its cover the photo of Yusuf Yerkel, an adviser to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who was photographed kicking a protester after the deadly Soma mining disaster in May.

The AKP already pushed through a controversial law in February that tightened state control over the Internet, sparking outrage both at home and abroad.

The government blocked Twitter and YouTube in March after they were used to spread audio recordings implicating the then prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan -- now president -- and his inner circle in a corruption scandal.