Turkish lawmakers passed legislation on Wednesday that would give the government sweeping new powers to regulate social media content, raising concerns that one of the few remaining spaces for free public debate in the country could fall under greater government control.
The bill orders social media platforms with over one million daily users — such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube — to open offices in Turkey and imposes stiff penalties if the international companies refuse, including slowing the bandwidth of the sites and making them largely inaccessible.
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Freedom House released their take on Turkey’s social media bill with the following points emailed:
- Today, Turkey’s government rushed through a censorial new law tightening its control over social media platforms. This is a dramatic escalation of internet regulation in Turkey. The law forces companies to establish a legal representative in the country or face five stages of escalating penalties, including fines, an advertising ban, and bandwidth limitations of up to 90 percent.
- Let’s be clear: this is another tool for the Turkish government to censor, surveil, and track down internet users. The bill comes amidst declining internet freedom in the country. Websites and news outlets are frequently blocked, while internet users are routinely detained and charged for their expression.
- Turkey’s move fits within a broader global trend of a data localization contagion.
- Our newly released report titled “User Privacy or Cyber Sovereignty?” found that authorities in Brazil, India, and Pakistan are among a growing number of countries weighing “data localization” laws, which require that tech companies store local users’ personal data on servers located within the country, where it can be more easily accessed by security agencies. These laws are currently in place in more authoritarian environments such as Russia, Vietnam, and China.
- Data localization typically has not received the same level of attention as other internet freedom issues, such as encryption, disinformation, and internet shutdowns. Yet the storage of personal data within problematic jurisdictions creates grave threats to human rights to users in both authoritarian and democratic countries, as evidenced by the recent controversy over TikTok and its ties to China.
- Better collaboration between policymakers, technology companies, and civil society will be instrumental towards securing better privacy for users. Ultimately, a comprehensive effort will be needed to ensure leading democracies can offer a viable alternative to the authoritarian model of cyber sovereignty.