The TV and press coverage were shocking, Turkish police force through steel gates with bolt-cutters, frightened demonstrators cower under a barrage of tear gas and water cannons. A wounded women staggers away from the crowd helped by onlooking journalists. However this wasn’t the breaking of a siege or closing down some extensive criminal enterprise, but merely the Turkish Government closing down a newspaper which had dared to voice it’s opposition.
This is now how Turkey deals with dissent, free speech is a term subject to the approval of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government.
Turkey has long been treading down this path, it has fallen steadily down the league table of Press Freedom and now sits among the likes of Russia and Iraq where dissent is simply not allowed among the press. The newspaper is called Zaman and is the most popular daily newspaper in Turkey.
It is the latest in a long line of journalist casualties – hundreds are currently under prosecution, many independent broadcasters have been take off air or prosecuted on spurious charges. The common ‘excuse’ is in the ‘national interest’ or to fight terrorism however the reality is that if you disagree with the government then you’d better not say it aloud.
Turkey is supposedly a democracy but it’s actions are beginning to mirror something quite different. At the moment Turkish authorities are pursuing an aim of quicker integration into the European Union whilst simultaneously ignoring the building blocks of any democratic system. This is not restricted to the persecution of dissenting journalists, there is a lack of freedom in other areas too.
The internet has long been seen as a problem for the Turkish government and it has actively been trying to control access from within the country. It is considered almost essential to use a fast VPN to gain access to many legitimate news sites via a Turkish controlled ISP. This allows internet users to bypass IP blocks on specific sites which have been blacklisted by the Turkish Government , the list was established some years ago but has been growing exponentially over the last few years as dissent in the country grows. If Turkey is admitted to the European Union in exchange for it’s help in the immigration crisis it would ironically be the first member where you need to buy VPN services in order to allow unfettered access to the internet, just like you needed to do in Syria and Afghanistan.
Most of us have some sort of digital footprint online now, obviously the size of this varies between individuals. The person who blogs, logs their every move on social media and takes pictures wherever they go will obviously have much more of a presence than the occasional web user however nearly everyone has some sort of personal information stored online.
However in some places you’ll find it much harder to find through the search engines if you’re looking for personal information. Europe has actually become home to a certain amount of censorship of search engine results due to the effect of the ‘right to be forgotten’ rules which were passed in 2014. This EU legislation states that companies like Google have a legal obligation to remove personal information about individuals from their search indices. Their are some caveats – the exclusions don’t apply to information which is in the public interest and data which is ‘inadequate, irrelevant, no longer relevant or excessive.’
In practical terms it means that Google and indeed all search engines, have to remove links to pages for example in news and current affair stories if an individual requests it. Of course this becomes very difficult for search engines, controlling access and tailoring results based on different locations. In fact it became a little confusing that search listings were deleted in the European Union countries and still existed in other countries. So if someone from Europe invested in a fast USA proxy or VPN then they could view the results by using the US version of Google without any problems.
Such are the problems of the internet, you can pass legislation and laws in one country and watch as they are completely ignored or even contradicted in another country. Google has decided on a pragmatic approach and will now remove all results in line with the European guidelines although presumably these excluded results can be accessed on request in other countries.
Such administrative issues are nothing compared to the more sinister moves by different countries across the world. Many governments are trying to create their own versions of the internet, following on the heavy restrictions in force in China – places like Brazil, Turkey and Russia are trying to create their own barriers. Fortunately no one has yet found a way to make these blocks complete and investing in the best VPN software you can afford will almost certainly bypass any of these restrictions including the technologically advanced Great Firewall of China.
We can see quite clearly though that without a global vision and central governance the internet is going to become increasingly fractured and localized.