Turkey: According to Recent Changes in Internet Laws in the Light of Gezi Protests

Serhat Koç
37 min readApr 4, 2021

Serhat KOÇ (LL.M. IT), Istanbul, Turkey, June 2016

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Edmund Burke


As you embark on this paper, I invite you to consider the following:

I am an accomplished information technology lawyer, practicing in Istanbul, Turkey. Over the years, I have encountered numerous challenges and faced situations where life and death hung in the balance. It all began on the evening of May 31, 2013.

Since that time, I have been subjected to intense surveillance and routine censorship, a reality that persists to this day. My unwavering commitment to the cause has kept my eyes glued to the computer screen, tirelessly writing, watching, posting, reposting, and commenting, in an ongoing effort to contribute my part.

During the tumultuous days of the Gezi protests, I found myself torn between two worlds. When circumstances confined me to the safety of my home, I grappled with a deep sense of responsibility for not being able to join the brave individuals taking a stand on the streets. However, when I did venture out amidst the chaos, particularly at night, I witnessed firsthand the anger brewing within ordinary people directed towards the government, Erdogan, and the riot police. I also witnessed their unwavering determination to assist and support those who resisted.

Among the legends born out of the Gezi Park protests, one figure stands out — Erdem Gündüz, known as the “Standing Man” or “Duran Adam.” Erdem has been a dear friend of mine for the past five years, and his powerful act during Gezi had an indelible impact on ordinary people. Unfortunately, his actions were met with false information and insults propagated by newspapers and even government officials. It is in this context that I also became Erdem’s legal counsel, fighting against the injustices he faced.

I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to Başak Tunçer and Selva Kaynak for their invaluable assistance in helping me craft this chapter. Their support and collaboration have been instrumental in bringing these words to life.

May this paper provide insight into the experiences and struggles that have shaped my journey as an information technology lawyer in Istanbul.


Having engaged in a diverse range of awareness activities such as creating stencils, encountering police clashes, delivering speeches[1] and interviews, managing people, assisting individuals and institutions, engaging with journalists, contributing articles to books and journals, participating in the UN’s Internet Governance Forum 2014 (Istanbul)[2], serving as a spokesperson for the Pirate Party[3], and closely observing the Turkey and Twitter case and its surrounding discussions, we have gained a comprehensive understanding of the broader landscape.

In the following sections, we present concise statements and findings that delve into the intricate details of this broader landscape, encompassing the realms of economics, politics, and civil society:

● The predominant challenge facing Turkey at present is Erdoğan’s control over public and political space.

● The totalitarian nature of the state and the increasing demand for anonymity among the populace are progressing in parallel.

● Self-censorship has reached its pinnacle in the aftermath of the Gezi events.

● Journalism plays a paramount role in the contemporary political landscape of Turkey.

● The technical battle against internet censorship and digital surveillance stands as the second most effective approach after legal measures.

● Advancements in software and hardware point toward new rights and freedoms for online life, with technology itself safeguarding our entitlements.

● Freedom of expression, the right to be forgotten, and even anonymity are now recognized as fundamental rights.

● Censorship and digital surveillance are interwoven and extensively practiced by governments and corporations in pursuit of their respective interests.

● Human rights in the online sphere should be treated on par with human rights in the offline world.

● Simply discussing basic human rights online and offline within a university classroom places individuals at risk.

● During critical events, the inability to disseminate real-time updates due to the absence of internet connectivity impedes tracking efforts, as tracking mechanisms rely on internet access.

What is Gezi?

On May 28, 2013 a small group of people came to Taksim Gezi Park of Istanbul to defend and protect the park while watching over trees turned out into occupation of the park with the number of people increasing every day towards replacing the park with a reconstruction of the historic Taksim Military Barracks or a shopping mall. When police used tear-gas and water cannons on the occupants and set up barricades to keep them out, then protests quickly spread all around Turkey with an anti-government agenda.[4]

Meanwhile, that day’s Prime Minister Erdogan dehumanized the protestors and described them as looters (“Çapulcu” in Turkish) and marginal characters.[5] He continuously undermined the numbers of people involved. So “chapulling” was introduced into Turkish political area when Erdogan referred to the demonstrators at the Gezi Park as chapulcu.[6] Most of the protesters just wanted Erdogan to end his oligarchic attitude and resign. They thought that then there might be a general elections which AKP might win again, but with a different establishment.[7]


As outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression. This right includes freedom to have opinions without interference and receive information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

But subsequent to Gezi Park protests of June 2013 over the past 3 years, many people in Turkey detained and/or sentenced just based on their social media activity, usually on charges related to terrorism or criticism of the state and its officials, especially Erdogan himself.

In the meantime Turkey blocked access to thousands of websites subject to Law Number 5651 beginning from May 2007, and this code is already governing the country’s all Internet activity and there has even been a European Court of Human Rights ruling against this code. 85% percent of blocked websites have adult or erotic content and %95 of the rest have political content. Currently, access to popular platforms such as Scribd, Last.fm, Metacafe, and Soundcloud is blocked from Turkey. Access to Wordpress, DailyMotion, Twitter, Youtube, Facebook, Vimeo and Google+ has been blocked temporarily by court or administrative orders during past years.

According to 5651, based on harmful content instead of taking down they are just blocking and censoring the websites. So it is obviously a big violation of freedom of speech and freedom of information.

So it is so sad but true that freedom of expression isn’t really Turkey’s thing. In fact, when it comes to penning an opinion or hitting the streets to voice your beliefs, the government makes it tough, especially for journalists.[8]

In Detail

In addition to widespread blocking of websites and content as well as criminal investigations and prosecutions to silence political speech, the Turkish authorities are also unlawfully built surveillance infrastructure including deep packet inspection systems to monitor all forms of communications. It is not just about blocking access to certain types of content. They are trying to build up a new infrastructure to surveil people and collect data about all Internet users from Turkey.[9]

Even in September 2013, pianist and composer Fazıl Say was given a suspended sentence of 10 months and court supervision for insulting religious values with his tweets.

However many Internet users’ disinterest in government surveillance has made it difficult to raise awareness about the new amendments to Turkish Internet Law and the likely effects on internet censorship and unlawful data collection. But interest in anonymity has been growing since last year’s protests in Gezi Park were met with police brutality.

Police violently dispersed hundreds of demonstrators who rallied in the streets of Turkey. These street protests demonstrate how much is at stake for a free society. The Internet has the potential to be the greatest enabler of human expression; it also has the potential to be the greatest tool of social control in Turkey.

Widespread protests of 2013 spring that started over saving Istanbul’s Gezi Park left at several people dead and injured more than a thousand, shaking the foundations of the Islamist-rooted ruling so called Justice and Development Party that has ruled for 15 years for now.

So the first chain of changes in provision Internet code was unveiled in December 2013, a day after family members of top politicians were implicated in a wide-ranging corruption probe targeting the prime minister’s family and inner political circle.

Turkey’s Parliament approved the legislation that would allow its telecommunications authority to block websites without a prior court decision and more digital surveillance on citizens. Erdogan has so far been able to contain the probe by sacking hundreds of prosecutors and judges and reassigning thousands of police, saying his government is the victim of an international plot to undermine Turkey’s world standing. But in weeks, videotapes and audio recordings from wiretaps have surfaced online that implicate Erdogan and his associates in shady dealings with business groups.

“The only reliable information to obtain for the Turkish people and people living in Turkey is through social media and alternative news sites, Facebook groups and Twitter have become crucially important for many people. That has led top politicians like Erdogan to condemn sites like Twitter as a tool used for extremists. During the height of the Gezi Park protests last June Erdogan declared, “Social media is the worst menace to society.” and “Facebook is ugly technology.”

But rather than crack down on social media Erdogan’s Party initially chose to fight fire with fire. This summer the party reportedly enlisted around 6,000 online volunteers to boost its presence online. Recently, more people have been contacting me through social media to seek advice on using the Internet anonymously and protecting their online freedoms and rights.


In fact, Turkey is a very wired country. It has one of the highest Internet usage rates in Europe with about 33 million registered Facebook accounts in a country of about 80 million people.

Even though Turkey is a NATO member and key U.S. ally, Communications minister Lutfi Elvan once told that they are planning to “detach” Turkey from the global Internet and can start ttt instead of www.[10] Andrew Duff, a member of the European Parliament, tweeted that “The man is clearly an idiot,”

Turkey’s Communications Ministry backed off its substitute Internet plan after a firestorm of criticism and denied any attempts to block off Web access. Ministry officials said Mr. Elvan was referring more broadly to the global debates over Internet regulation

They would probably prefer to have such an intranet/local online network nationwide like North Korea, but we don’t think they can pull that off. As a minister, his comments reflect how governments are threatening to chill online liberties. Right now, Turkey is using very basic tools for censoring the Internet, but now they are trying to get to the same level as China. They want to go as far as they can.

The government is demonizing social media. We see more and more articles about the evils of social media, especially in pro-government media. Maybe they cannot implement a nationwide intranet for now, but they are doing their best to restrict Internet usage.

The Turkish Government once planned to tax Twitter and Google and it was a direct threat that the government hoped they could force the companies to hand over some control, whether legal or financial, but it didn’t work out in that way.

The state’s effort to control the Internet is a great example of the challenges of internet governance. There is a pattern of intolerance and dissent in Turkey. The government sees social media as a threat, while we see it as a valuable tool. When mass media turned a blind eye to the Gezi protests in 2013, citizens turned to social media, particularly Twitter for communications. Despite prominent censorship by Middle Eastern countries in 2014, concerns over increasing Internet surveillance, blocking and censorship were only peripheral at the IGF this year. Independent media bodies are experiencing daily DDOS attacks, citizens are being prosecuted for retweets, and activists reported on Facebook. Some governments chose to block SMS and/or was shut down internet on several occasions Not to mention the rapid growth of companies selling surveillance software.[11]

Law №: 5651

First thing first, let’s not forget that Facebook and Twitter are just companies, and of course they don’t care about our freedoms, or want to fight for our freedom of information. They don’t have any interest in freedom of information. They want their websites to remain open in Turkey and have lots of users.[12] And you will understand what I am trying to say while you are reading the next pages.

So in Turkey, freedom of expression on the Internet has always been under attack even before the censorship laws of 2007, during these years with an increasingly large number of websites being blocked. But after the law no 5651 the government banned websites, which has content about Kurdish PKK movement, pornography, homosexuality, and criticism of Islam and Turkey’s founder Atatürk.

In fact, Law number 5651 was passed in 2007 and has since regulated freedom of expression on the Internet in Turkey by censoring thousands of websites, including a full two-year ban on YouTube. The full name of this law is “Code of Publications on the Internet and Suppression of Crimes Committed by means of Such Publications.”

First passed in 2007, Law 5651 is already regarded by free speech advocates as problematic, as it allows websites to be blocked Turkey’s internet regulator, the High Council for Telecommunications (TIB) based on complaints by individuals who feel that their rights have been violated, allowing them to request that the site or its host remove the incriminated content. Decisions made by TIB are arbitrary, not subject to appeal, and as of 26 January 2014 have been used to block 40,482 websites and as 12 June 2016 there are 111,637 websites are blocked/banned in Turkey.[13]

Even in 2011 many normal keywords are banned on pornographic grounds from search results. The list of banned words, which borders on the ridiculous, includes words such as “etek” (skirt), “hamile (pregnant), “baldiz” (sister-in-law) and “hayvan” (animals). It poses serious problems for access to online information. If words such as “free” and “pic” are censored, countless references to freedom and everyday photos will be eliminated from the Turkish Internet.[14]

Although, controversial Internet Law No 5651 aimed to protect children from harmful content, from the very beginning it has been used to prevent all public’s access to information.

In February 2014, amendments were made to Law No 5651 for URL-based blocking of Internet content. The amendments raised concerns on violation of personal rights and privacy infringements. We argued that with URL blocking, the extent of censorship would be less visible to Internet users.[15] While court orders were previously displayed on blocked websites, in the new system we won’t be able to see any warning,” leaving visitors to speculate about why they cannot access a website. People even won’t be notified about what has been censored.[16]

Turkey’s new Internet laws decree that where a simple block of a URL is not possible, internet service providers (ISPs) should just block entire domains. Since Twitter, Facebook, and many others use HTTPS encryption; censors can’t block individual pages or tweets, so they resort to blocking the whole site if the companies don’t take down the allegedly infringing content first. When Turkey blocks entire websites, the decision seems to backfire as solidarity hashtags and social media campaigns trend all over the world.[17]

And URL-based blocking also forces all ISPs to keep all logs for two years, putting all of our information into their hands. These amendments raised concerns on violation of personal rights and privacy infringements. These changes served to increase the government’s strong hold over the Internet. The amendments obliged all ISPs to be part of an Association for Access Providers to centrally enforce blocking orders within 4 hours of receipt.

However, the government has hit back. “With the new legal arrangement, we intend to protect individual rights. Let’s say one of our citizens has become a victim [of a privacy breach]. He won’t have to wait for an answer from the provider of the content. He can directly apply to the court for it,” said Transport and Communication Minister Lütfi Elvan.[18]

And also introduced 1 to 2 year data retention requirements for hosting companies in addition to all ISPs. According to new provisions, ISPs are required to take all necessary measures to block access to alternative access methods and mechanisms such as proxy sites and other circumvention services including VPNs.

The amended version of this code also shields the Turkish Telecommunications Presidency (TIB) staff from prosecution if they commit crimes during the exercise of their duties. After the introduction of these amendments access to Twitter and YouTube has been blocked in March 2014 unlawfully by the Telecommunication Presidency as confirmed by the recent decisions of the Turkish Constitutional Court.

After all with these new amendments it was ok that just one man (official person) can order a website to be banned, and according to all logical people, it’s really anti-democratic. And it was just about Prime Minister Erdogan is locked into a big battle with neocon supported cult leader Fethullah Gulen. [19]

The Constitutional Court stated that the blocking of Twitter by TIB is an explicit intervention on the freedom of expression of all Twitter users. Furthermore, the Constitutional Court decided that the YouTube ban was unconstitutional and infringed freedom of expression protected by the Constitution.

However, despite these strong decisions saying that blockings were unconstitutional and infringed freedom of expression protected by the Constitution, Twitter started to block access to certain Turkish Twitter accounts as well as individual tweets according to its Withheld Content Policy.

It was reported in June 2014 that Twitter complied with 44 out of 51 court decisions since they visited Turkish authorities 2 times, that we know, in April and August 2014 and they continue to aid and assist Turkish authorities to censor political content from Turkey.

Facebook also banned pages of a number of alternative news sources on its social media platform, including “Ötekilerin Postası” and other related groups on Kurdish rebellious movements and has been criticized for removing several pages related to the Kurdish Political Party. A number of alternative news websites that report news on Kurdish issues remain blocked from Turkey including “Firat News”.

Furthermore, we have begun expressing alarm over these amendments but couldn’t succeed to prevent them entering into force. After the introduction of these amendments access to both Twitter and YouTube was blocked in March 2014 by the Telecommunication Authority. And Turkish Constitutional Court confirmed that these blockings are unlawful and a clear intervention on the freedom of expression of all Twitter and YouTube users. And these websites were again blocked in March 2015 and opened after removing that footage of the hostage situation of the prosecutor in the courthouse.

Erdogan ordered the two services blocked and threatened to “eradicate Twitter” to show the international community “the power of the Turkish republic”. But these moves are meant mainly to intimidate social media users. In fact with both blocking orders the government aimed to prevent the circulation of allegations of facts on corruption of the government before the local elections.

Despite all efforts, the whole wordpress.com service was banned in Turkey in March 2015. Turkey blocked access to 60 million blogs on WordPress platform based on a court decision, which one professor accused of plagiarism another professor that I found and published the related court order at my Twitter account and Wordpress contacted me over the issue.[20] It’s a move that shows the scope of Turkey’s Internet law, the power of judges who may not fully understand online media, and the technical capacities of Turkish ISPs, which, under the heavy pressure of President Erdoğan’s rule, have turned into instruments of censorship.[21] So apparently, this is mass censorship as a feature of national culture. For example, Turkey is far ahead in the number of requests to delete messages from Twitter.[22]

During the blocking period, the authorities also ordered major ISPs to hijack free DNS providers’ services like Google DNS and OPENDNS to track communications as well as to prevent users from circumventing the blocking orders. In fact the practice of banning the future publication of an entire website goes beyond any notion of ‘necessary’ restraint in a democratic society and, instead, means a direct censorship forever.

Recent accusations by the press of government corruption have led to increased harassment of journalists, and are likely a prime motive for amending Law 5651, which classifies ‘hate speech’ under the internet ban, and compels courts to respond to internet-based ‘right violations complaints’ within 24 hours without a regular trial (up until now citizens claiming their privacy had been violated had to contact the website administrators first, and then wait for 2 days until they could go to court). If websites do not remove content requested by the courts within 4 hours they will be fined and the content blocked by TIB within 72 hours, and all ISPs will be required to join a union charged with ensuring that the censorship measures are carried out. Not only is this likely to lead to a high degree of self-censorship, but because what constitutes ‘hate speech’ has not been defined, sentences are likely to be highly subjective.[23]

Life became harder for Internet users in Turkey after the draft bill was implemented to Law 5651 in early months of 2014. In Turkey, censorship of citizen journalism, scientific research and social media is routine nowadays. Fortunately Internet users in Turkey can use VPN services based outside of Turkey to evade censorship restrictions, but it is very sad that such measures are necessary.

And as Pirate Party Turkey we made statements to foreign media[24] and even published a declaration with a title “Internet Censorship is on the Decline? Not a Chance!”[25] in English and Turkish on 5651 in January 2014 with hashtags #SansüreHayırDe = #SayNo2Censorship and #İnternetimeDokunma = #DoNotTouchMyInternet) on 06.01.2014 about the re-fashioned Internet Censorship Bill. Because in 2014, in order to increase censorship and surveillance online, the Turkish government made changes to Law №5651, otherwise known as the “Code of Publications on the Internet and Suppression of Crimes Committed by means of Such Publications.”

These amendments to Law №5651 ensured censorship to become ever more present in daily life and we can bullet-point out as follows: new methods of blocking “harmful” content are implemented. Rather than censoring the entire website, these methods targeted the URL of infringing sites directly; content that “denigrates particular sections of society on account of social status, race, religion, sect, gender, or region of origin” is treated as a crime that warrants censorship; Internet Service Providers are required to keep track of personal data and conduct sweeping surveillance on behalf of the government; the new blocking methods made it impossible to access the censored content by merely changing DNS settings; Citizen journalism and independent media hit hardest.[26]

Since this amendment is against the spirit of the Internet, we as the Turkish Pirate Party have written a declaration that denounced particular law and the proposed changes to it. We then declared that we do not recognize Law №5651 in light of the European Court of Human Rights, the Constitution of the Republic of Turkey, and International Law and Regulations, and thus we notified the Turkish public, the government of the Republic of Turkey, and the world at large of this egregious threat to our online freedom.

During the voting week of these amendments; the regulatory bodies of the telecommunications and information have requested that a news portal take down an article on when the main opposition party submitted an official parliamentary question regarding censorship; This official question already exists on the website of the Turkish Grand National Assembly. An opposition member of the parliament, Umut Oran who has written his thoughts on his blog on the parliamentary questionnaire that he gave, faced with the surprise demand from telecommunications authority to remove content from his personal blog.

A recent development on Turkey’s e-government system has been reported that it can be checked if a website is blocked by a court order via this service starting from June 2016. But It doesn’t give out any statistics or numbers, just a search tool.[27]

Twitter and Turkey

We understood that the ruling government has anonymous supporters on Twitter and the other online platforms. And they investigated lots of people and asked Twitter about their IP addresses, and had agreement with Twitter to obtain those IP addresses because there are a lot of user accounts on Twitter that are tweeting about the corruption and other illegal things about the government. And Twitter complied with many of the government’s IP requests.

It’s obvious that Twitter changed its policy over Turkey. So if there’s something on Twitter, that’s bad for the government or the government party leaders and their relatives. Turkish State officials can tag that tweet/post/comment as “illegal” to be deleted. Because they had super tagging ability on Twitter and YouTube after those meetings.

Twitter was the most used tool by Chapulchus because they were anonymous there and they would be able to express themselves and protest the government freely. So during the Gezi Park protests, Erdogan declared that social media is against society. Because they couldn’t understand it’s power at the time. Then in fact they figured out that they can use it too if the Chapulcus are using it, obviously for protesting government. So the government chose “to fight fire with fire”. Furthermore the ruling government has also anonymous supporters on Twitter and the other online platforms.

During 2014 summer, AKP reported that it has around 6,000 anonymous online volunteers to boost its presence online. And of course these “so called” volunteers initiate digital bullying anonymously on the people protesting or expressing themselves against the government’s actions.

And after that of course during Gezi Park protests and months after many users receive suspended sentences and fines for only their social media activity in Turkey, and usually on charges related to terrorism and criticism of the state and its officials and/or insulting religion or religious people. But they were just tweeting their and/or retweeting the others’ peaceful opinions, and not calling for violence or insulting anyone.

But I am not aware of any complaints filed against the pro-government “trolls” (volunteers). I have seen an abundance of cases against anti-government Twitter accounts. The imbalance to a combination of factors: legal vigilantism among Erdogan supporters, the government’s own aggressive pursuit of these cases, and lack of faith in the justice system among government opponents. While lawyers’ representing government officials and businessmen with ties to Erdogan open many cases, many cases are also filed by ordinary citizens. They are just trying to protect their prime minister or president. When they see something they think it is unlawful they run to the courthouse. Sometimes the Twitter accounts targeted have just a couple hundred followers. As a result, the platform many anti-government critics rely on is shrinking. Some anonymous Twitter users targeted with removal requests don’t bother to put up a fight. Instead, they open replacement accounts but are rarely able to attract the same following they had before.[28] So all actions on social media are perceived as an insult and a basis for a court case, while regimes seeking to increase social pressure and start a fear empire are beginning to control these areas more than before.[29]

Media, Internet, Citizen Journalism

Gezi and the censorship of social media can’t be understood without considering the state of Turkish journalism and neoliberal policies of Turkey after 1980. Mass commercialization of the news market and based on that in the absence of an independent and critical news culture, social media such as became so important for Turkish people for the collection of data and publishing news. People’s support for the Gezi Park movement and hate for Erdogan are triggered by widespread media censorship and excessive use of police force against young people in the park. And in the absence of Turkish mainstream news coverage, people chose to rely on Twitter to access information from the Park and streets. It cleared out that it’s really a big potential to encourage civic participation in Turkey via citizen journalism and alternative media.

Traditional media is so dysfunctional in this country. So we are relying so much on social media’s power to spread the news and to get the citizens informed. Turkey is a very vibrant society and a lot of young people are very digital native in terms of social media. So the Internet, new media technology has turned out to be a very important tool for Civil Society and NGOs. And they are mutualizing everything available in order to organize, campaign and fundraise. And this turned out to be all for Civil Society and citizens in general a clear demand for participation in decision making processes. What would do Turkish activists need to make the Internet a democratic environment? The most important thing for campaigning is evidence and reports. The most important is research. So we do conduct research to build evidence. So evidence is extremely important for our advocacy campaigns. So we realize that public interest litigation and then taking these violations to the court of law is one way that we can try to deal with it. And if there are better tools to pull that data and implement it into reports and evidence for improving demands and a need for them this will be very good for Civil Society communications and demands.[30]

If you look at the overall picture in the country, of course, intimidation goes to academia as well. A lot of investigation is being held for the academics. They don’t have freedom to teach in the classroom and speak to the media as well. They are mostly silenced. They are self‑censoring themselves. We have a bunch of people who are trying to raise the issue on an international level by writing and speaking to the international media. Everything is vague in this country. But, of course, there is a blanket of intimidation throughout this, especially state Universities. It is a pretty tough environment for academics as well sadly.[31]


Anonymity affords minimal accountability, which encourages people to take risks for ideas, develop arguments, and express themselves. Anonymity affords safety from fear of reprisal and ridicule, which enables the vulnerable and marginalized being able to participate without others getting at them. Also safety from public exposure encourages people to reach out for help, advice and consolation.

A common misunderstanding is that anonymity encourages people to lie, misrepresent and deceive. Yet in fact research proves that the Internet’s relative anonymity makes people more inclined to disclose honestly. Anonymity can encourage honest self-disclosure and be a liberating experience, especially for those lonely and stigmatized. The affordance of disinhibiting allows people to speak spontaneously and candidly about things, enabling intimacy.

Anonymity enables freedom of expression, community building, and collective action; and enable important uses including whistleblowing to fight government abuse and corporate malfeasance, investigative reporting which relies on the protection of the confidentiality of their sources, and pro-democracy activism and human rights defenders who require safety from reprisal. The point is to argue for a new consensus to support anonymity as a fundamental right that enables other rights and freedoms.

But beyond this we need to mainstream these tools and practices for everyone and reduce the technical complexity of anonymous and privacy-aware tools and applications. We need to make anonymity the default, and identification a choice, not the opposite. I’m glad those rights, fundamental freedoms, are brought together, because anonymity is serving the right to privacy as it is to the right to freedom of expression. To have the right to privacy on the one hand and right to freedom of expression, I’m glad those rights, fundamental freedoms, are brought together, because anonymity is serving the right to privacy as it is to the right to freedom of expression that you may choose not to disclose your identity online. Council of Europe’s cybercrime convention highlights that the anonymity tools are not meant to be criminalized. “The modification of traffic data for the purpose of facilitating anonymous communication or for the purpose of data encryption should in principle be considered a legitimate protection of privacy and therefore being considered as undertaken with rights.” It’s technically harder but financially cheaper to have privacy, anonymity than it has been in the pre-Internet era. The point about the different levels of anonymity is very important. And across all of these we can agree that disabling anonymity or what we have now in terms of privatization of ourselves and identifies and the currency we have to pay online, we have to pay with information about us. I have to put a real picture, a real relationship status, feelings, and actions. I think the Internet is designed now in a way to like extracting as much data and information about us as is possible. [32]

But in countries like Turkey, we really need it, not philosophically but in practice. In fact I don’t want to be in need of being anonymous online. Because I want to feel free to express myself in every possible way, as long as I am not calling for violence or insulting anyone.

We need to think more about designing the next Internet rather than designing anonymity within this one. With the principles of the notion of anonymity that we are talking about right now today; anonymity should be a cross-cutting right.

Anonymity and/or pseudonymity?

What is the value of online anonymity; why should it be protected in regulation and governance of the Internet? Why do I consider online anonymity as a fundamental human right, to be valued and protected as an important enabler of other similar rights?

On the subject of anonymity and pseudonymity, the whole point is to define two worlds whom one actually needs to be anonymous. If one simply uses pseudonyms, then he/she can be probably anonymous with respect to the general public, meaning the other “users”. But he/she also might need to be anonymous with respect to service/website/page/network/software/hardware/technology that he/she uses.

Disabling anonymity or what we have now in terms of privatization of ourselves and identities and the currency we have to pay online, we have to pay with information about us. We have to put a real picture, a real relationship status, feelings, and actions. This is all about the balancing of the rights with the state’s interest and ensuring public order.

I think the Internet is designed now in a way to like extracting as much data and information about us as is possible. And the point about literacy is quite important. Because people simply choose to reveal this information.

In fact, don’t we ipso facto consent to give away any right or simply any possibility of anonymity when using these online/cloud-based services? But after all in a utopian ideal world, in fact we shouldn’t be in need of anonymity in society. I really don’t want to be in need of being anonymous online. But in Turkey, we really need online anonymity. Because we must be free to express ourselves in any way if there is no open call for violence.

Figured out that it is a shame for me to be in need of anonymity to express myself online. I am repeating the sentence because I work for anonymity and I work for anonymity to be accepted as a constitutional right in Turkey, but I don’t want to be in need of anonymity to express myself. It is a shame. And about these VPNs, proxies and other software fighting for censorship and privacy tools we cannot trust them. Because we know or suspect that the governments are distributing anti-circumvention tools and privacy apps.

To express one’s opinion freely and also in his/her own name is also a fundamental aspect of democracy. Opinions are probably more credible if there is a name and an affiliation shown than when it is completely anonymous.

The truth is majority of today’s Internet users have no idea where they’re sending their data and they even have no right over it anymore, they can’t delete it permanently; that it can be used for a number of different levels.

As in Turkey, most governments adopted data retention laws allowing them to conduct massive and systematic collection of communication and traffic data at the national level. Apart from governments, companies also track Internet user’s’ online presence on e‑commerce services, social networks and other cloud-based services, for behavioral advertising purposes, commercial benefits and for profit-making, are concerning and annoying. And we know that all these data combined from private sector and state sources allows for the mapping citizens’ online activities and also data mining and behavioral analysis more relying on geo-location and profiling datasets of law enforcement authorities for policing and security objectives to fulfill their objectives on this agenda.

Let’s end up with an example case study from Turkey. As a IT lawyer I represented the three Twitter users (so called “phenomens” with lots of followers), and claimed in my petition to the prosecutor that a news story published on June 12 in Takvim daily and another story published online at www.ahaber.com on June 17 had deliberately made the three plaintiffs targets and gave out inaccurate information defaming them saying they started the Gezi Protests. I filed criminal complaint with the İstanbul Chief Prosecutor’s Office claiming that the media outlets affiliated with the Turkuvaz group committed libel against these three Twitter users, my clients Oğuz Asma (Kutup Zencisi), Orçun Ortaç (Taci Kalkavan) and Pınar Yıldırım (Pucca) and made them public targets and pressed charges against Turkuvaz Radyo Televizyon Gazetecilik ve Yayıncılık A.Ş. accusing the media group of making them targets because of their pro-Gezi protest Tweets. But Nurten Altınok, an İstanbul prosecutor, stated in her written decision that, according to the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), in crimes of defamation the plaintiff should be a real person. She pointed out that my clients are not using their real names on Twitter but pseudonyms. So she unfortunately nonsuited the case in which these three Twitter users nicknamed Pucca, Kutup Zencisi and Taci Kalkavan, who have hundreds of thousands of followers.

And about the most well known character of Gezi protests; Erdem Gündüz (aka Duran Adam = Standing Man)[33], He was also my friend for about five years before the protest and became my client after having been the iconic legend of Gezi. Because there were lots of defamation about him and Pro-AKP newspapers reported that the protests were planned by the Serbian civil society organization, and Erdem is a trained CIA agent working for this organization named OTPOR. So as his lawyer I sent refutation letters to all of the TV stations and big Internet news websites of Turkey and according to law they had no choice but publish my disclaimer about Standing Man as he is only a person who wants peace.[34] Despite all these fight and chaotic accusations he didn’t want to file criminal petitions to those papers or ministers since I told him to do so, or didn’t go complete anonymous or act like a legend but he simply stated his position as: “I’m nothing… The idea is important: why people resist the government. The government doesn’t want to understand, didn’t try to understand why people are on the streets. This is really silent resistance. I hope people stop and think ‘what happened there?”[35]

Finally, after all what I learnt from my cases with Duran Adam Erdem Gündüz and other stories; I believe that we must understand and accept the role of anonymity as rights such as privacy and freedom of expression in daily life of this country.

Last Words and Conclusions

As a strong believer in the multi-dimensional approach of both supporting on the local ground but also working on a global level, I believe that we can argue some solid conclusions from everything we learned during these 3 years.

Laws and legislations are drafted to protect public good sometimes even against the will of the public. Same thing can be said regarding censorship and especially about surveillance after 9/11. Hence the most outrageous surveillance legislation has passed in the US and we have witnessed the results in the latest NSA leaks. Therefore I think the Internet that we are using right now is almost fully censored and this is due to the fact that mostly search engines and big players dominate it. So are we using the real Internet? That should be the question. The companies generally depend on trust. If they do not protect the trust of their users, then their businesses fail. But since our Internet is heavily censored and our online presence is routinely surveilled by not just governments but the big companies, this is not the real Internet.

Gezi woke up the sleeping giant in Turkey and this caused the government to perceive any kind of activism or protest as an enemy. Anonymity is one of those. The government of Turkey has not faced anonymity or its “danger” before. During the last two years the government did everything in its power to pass laws that would work against the negative outcomes of anonymity and Internet activism. It passed laws and defended itself against the will of their citizens, who happens to be the reason for their presence. But unfortunately this was not all. Increased totalitarian acts can be considered as a bigger and more dangerous outcome of Gezi.

We need to demystify the Internet and use less confusing words to describe censorship. Maybe we should focus on how to explain censorship to our parents. In Turkey, DNS censorship is really common but people in Turkey do not understand how easy it is to circumvent it.

For us, raising awareness and collaboration is the most promising way to go forward because in the future of Turkey, even the most democratic government will abuse its powers to achieve widespread surveillance.

In fact, censorship often takes place in subtle ways under the pretext of protecting the general public from online dangers. So, as freedom of speech activists and human rights and cyber law experts we insist that the most effective resistance to censorship and digital surveillance will be promoting Internet security by all means; technically and legally.

My main concern about the new sophisticated techniques of expressing ourselves over the Internet, for example, throttling or DNS hijacking is that there is no transparency about this. So the words transparency, accountability are becoming more and more important for the Internet world after Gezi. Even a DNS hijacking has happened in this country, which also signals that sometimes the enforcers take it too far. They no longer think in jurisdictional parameters but they go after particular stakeholders and want to make sure that it hurts.

Today people are at least able to say that about 100,000 websites are brought down in Turkey. About every year 15,000 websites are being added to this list and this number has been increasing over time. And we also know that Turkey is highly likely the world champion in removing “so called illegal” content because transparency reports of the companies like Google or are publicly available and everyone knows about it.

The more the technology gets sophisticated and certain stakeholders in the Internet world are being targeted without their involvement the less these transparency reports are going to reflect the actual situation, the severity of the situation in Turkey.

Erdogan’s government has been trying to exert more power on the tech sphere than his predecessors, and one area where it has been very apparent up to now is social media. New regulations gives the regulator permission to block sites like Twitter, Facebook and Reddit if they host content related to, among other things, porn, drugs, terrorism, illegal file sharing, or anything negative/questionable related to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the first president of Turkey. Twitter has gone so far as to file a lawsuit in the country protesting the fine it’s been asked to pay over some of the tweets it has refused to remove.[36]

Furthermore the government forced PayPal to have data centers in Turkey if PayPal wants to obtain a license depending on a new Turkish policy that requires IT systems to be based within the country, a policy that PayPal does not follow. Thus PayPal ceased operations in Turkey starting from 6th of June 2016 because of the firm’s inability to get a new license. Now this shutdown will reportedly impact “tens of thousands” of businesses and “hundreds of thousands” of customers.[37] So Turkey added to the countries list which are not supported by PayPal include; Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Ivory Coast, North Korea, Republic of Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Ghana, Haiti, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Monaco, Moldova, Montenegro, Myanmar, Pakistan, Paraguay, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, East Timor, Uzbekistan, Zimbabwe. It shows us that Turkish government does not want activists and freedom fighters to get financial funding from abroad.

In a big roundtable workshop of IGF 2014 which was held in İstanbul by the UN, my LLM thesis lecturer Aslı Tunç pointed out that; “Social media play a key role in informing the Turkish public about the growing control of the traditional media and the harassment of journalists.” and I stated that; “Turkish National Assembly played a major role in drafting censorship laws and should therefore be an important target of campaigning and lobbying by activists”[38]

Finding representation neither in the established political opposition nor in the mainstream media landscape, the core of the Gezi social movement deployed the social media-driven ‘connective action’ of Turkish youth.


I mainly tried to focus on issues of freedom of expression. And we clearly know that criminalizing speech online is certainly not a new thing, but in the last few years, even the last six months it has been very surprising to see such restrictions on speech, not even under the auspices of child and national security but just news. All of us need to be watching this incredibly closely.

So finally I should clearly state that as freedom of speech activists we insist that the most effective resistance to censorship and digital surveillance will be promoting Internet security by all means.

We started a website savunmasanati.info which features guides explaining how to use tools for internet anonymity or circumventing censorship, like Tor, VPNs or encryption.

Trying to initiate a bottom-up approach rather than a top-down type of attitude is really the golden key regarding the issues of the Internet. So who is the true owner of the Internet? It is the people. But there is a technological gap about the awareness of technology and how people can use those technologies within their lives. When you go through local parts of Turkey people are not using the Internet like in Istanbul or in other European countries. The behaviour of the public is like in the ’80s. People get to watch TV, however the Internet is still a child for Anatolian people.

Internet companies must maximize their transparency and reporting not only on the results but also on the process.[39] We can maximize the evidence we collect and we need advocates on how to access that data and how to turn it into effective products for mandatory transparency advocacy. With doing so we can enable society to document, monitor and report all wrongdoings on the Internet.

We are also developing projects for secure communication, including a local mesh network, which are primitive networks of interconnected wireless routers that allow users to communicate relatively freely via the Internet despite government efforts to suppress access as happened in Gezi protests.

And we are also building a whistleblowing platform for journalists. Because currently, whistleblowers rarely leak to journalists due to anonymity software is not widely used and understood in Turkey.

Heterogeneity of Gezi (please consider “heterogeneity of Gezi” versus state’s eternal idea of “monolithic and homogeneous nation”) showed us that it is too dangerous to be an individual in Turkey and being in action for individual rights and freedoms is really up to receiving daily threats.

Supporting and strengthening civil society actors, at the national or regional and global level, involved in a dialogue are the only certain ways to force each stakeholder for accountability.

But we have so few NGOs in Turkey really fighting for Internet freedom and they are so divided and not connected to each other and don’t have coordination. We are trying to establish good connections between NGOs right now in Turkey. But I believe that Turkish civil society will strategize after this in order to engage the youth in Turkey who has a huge potential as we have seen before. Because I would mention that there are specialized organizations out there who are out there to help activists and the human rights movement on all these different aspects.

It seems that technology itself enforces what is our right and I really hope that technology can provide us the support we need in enforcing our rights. So recently in Turkey, we have raised the interest of people, develop projects for secure communication in Turkey, including establishing local networks, building a whistleblowing platform for the people of Turkey. Consequently it is clear that we need to think more about designing the next Internet rather than re-designing the anonymity within this one.

Gezi Park provided guidance to the collective memory for the people of Turkey and I personally experienced it while examining the protests relating to the Corruption Scandal of December 2013 and afterwards Soma Mining, so why is the situation being faced with much force and violence each following day? Because they fear us and at the same time they want to intimidate us, this may be paradoxical but true.

We have got the ability to react when something happens but what’s become increasingly obvious is we need to be more than one step ahead. We need to try and develop solutions to the problems that we can in some ways predict. What can be the solutions that we can develop against blocking content? We have to look for ways in order to be prepared for the next generation of blocking and censorship? So should we also consider other alternative communications technologies such as radio or should the Government take the Internet down?

I feel that we are in an oxymoron situation. Everybody talks about how corrupt everything is but no one actually acts. Quality of education is important, writing and using quality software is also important above all Law is so important for this country. But entering the assembly as a parliament member and fighting for Internet freedom is the most important.

We mustn’t forget that all means of technical fixes and solutions are tools that only buy time for actual policy solutions. The blocking of the content censorship and freedom of expression are illegal and the government can be held politically and legally accountable for that in the near future by our efforts. As we “ good men” do something against the triumph of evil.

As Jakob Lindgaard stated: “in the short run it will probably remain too dangerous to be an individual in Turkey.”[40]

Serhat KOÇ (LL.M)

Istanbul, Turkey, June 2016




Spokesperson of Pirate Party Turkey

Attorney at Law

Lecturer / Teaching Fellow

Legal Counsel

— — -

Twitter is a “menace to society” and Facebook is “ugly technology.”

Recep Tayyip Erdogan

— — — — — — — — — — -

[1] https://www.facebook.com/ppinternational/posts/938622792830782 , Talking about “Gezi protests and internet activism” at Disco-Tech, one of the side events of United Nations’ Internet Governance Forum Istanbul (APC, Tactical Tech and Web Foundation brought together over 150 techies, human rights defenders and rights activists in Istanbul to attend the ninth Internet Governance Forum to a peer-learning event called Disco-tech), September 3, 2014,

[2] https://www.accessnow.org/in-the-pursuit-of-digital-rights-spotlight-on-turkey/ , “In the Pursuit of Digital Rights: Spotlight on Turkey”, October 6, 2014

[3] http://piratetimes.net/interview-with-a-turkish-pirate-about-the-protests-in-gezipark/ , “Interview with a Turkish Pirate about the Protests in #gezipark”, June 24, 2013

[4] For a detailed timeline of Gezi Park protests; http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/timeline-of-gezi-park-protests-.aspx?pageID=238&nID=48321&NewsCatID=341, “Timeline of Gezi Park protests”, June 06, 2013

[5] For a daily timeline of Gezi Park protests; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_the_Gezi_Park_protests ,

[6] For a detailed explanation of basics of Gezi Park; http://amnesty.org.tr/uploads/Docs/gezi-park-protests-brutal-denial-of-right-to-peaceful-assembly-in-turkey794.pdf , “Brutal Denial Of The Right To Peaceful Assembly In Turkey”

[7] www.piratetimes.net/wp-uploads/news/2013/09/edition16.pdf , “Pirate Times” newsletter, September 01, 2013

[8] http://www.vocativ.com/world/turkey-world/turkey-tightens-grip-internet/ , “Turkey Tightens Its Grip on the Internet”, January 14, 2014

[9] http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2014/02/06/turket-internet-censorship/5252253/ , “Europe warns of Turkey Internet censorship” , February 9, 2014

[10]http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/may/4/us-domain-deregulation-could-result-in-tangled-web/ , U.S. domain deregulation could fragment World Wide Web into ‘Splinternet’, May 4, 2014

[11] https://www.apc.org/en/news/activists-talk-censorship-and-circumvention-disco , “Activists talk censorship and circumvention at Disco-tech Istanbul”, September 01, 2014,

[12] http://ojs.ub.gu.se/ojs/index.php/gt/article/viewFile/3030/2575 , “Social media and the “Menace to Society”: Potential and limitations of alternative media in Turkey”, Sofia Hafdell,

[13] www.engelliweb.com

[14] https://rsf.org/en/news/online-censorship-now-bordering-ridiculous-turkey, “Online censorship now bordering on the ridiculous in Turkey”, April 29, 2011

[15]http://www.intgovforum.org/cms/174-igf-2014/transcripts/1935-2014-09-02-ws83-human-rights-for-the-internet-room-9 , “Ninth Annual Meeting Of The Internet Governance Forum 2014 Istanbul, Turke: Connecting Continents For Enhanced Multi‑Stakeholder Internet Governance”, Workshop 83 “Human Rights For The Internet: From Principles To Actıion”, excerpts from my talks, September 2, 2014

[16]http://techpresident.com/news/wegov/24673/were-not-china-turkey-bleats-about-censorship-law-makes-them-more-china , “”We’re Not Like China!” Turkey Bleats, About Censorship Law That Makes Them More Like China”, January 15 2014

[17]https://motherboard.vice.com/read/twitter-and-youtube-are-back-but-turkey-won-the-censorship-battle , “Twitter and YouTube Are Back, But Turkey Won the Censorship Battle”, April 7, 2015

[18] https://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/01/turkeys-new-internet-law-said/ , “Turkey’s proposed internet law met with strong opposition”, January 17, 2014

[19] http://www.democraticunderground.com/10024452617 , “Crises (internet freedom and political wars) get worse in Turkey”, February 6, 2014

[20] https://twitter.com/mckrees/status/579181697666838528 “Wordpress service banned in Turkey.”, March 21, 2015

[21] http://www.dailydot.com/politics/turkey-wordpress-censorship-block/ , “Ban against a single blog post leads Turkish ISPs to censor all of WordPress” , April1, 2015

[22] http://bashny.net/t/en/297575 , “Turkey has blocked 166 sites, including YouTube”, (original in Russian, https://geektimes.ru/post/248622/), April 6, 2015

[23]https://www.bestvpn.com/blog/8559/new-legal-amendments-turkey-threaten-even-greater-web-censorship/ , “New legal amendments in Turkey threaten even greater web censorship”, January 27, 2014

[24] https://news.vice.com/video/protests-in-turkey-dispatch-four, “Protests in Turkey: Dispatch Four”, March 31, 2014

[25]https://korsanparti.org/2014/01/06/internet_censorship_is_increasing_in_turkey/, “Declaration of Pirate Party Turkey Abour Increasing Censorship in Turkey.” (Original version in Turkish: https://korsanparti.org/2014/01/05/internet-yine-ve-yeniden-tehlikede-sansur-artiyor/ ), January 01, 2014

[26] https://www.ifex.org/turkey/2014/01/10/censorship_internet/ , “Draft bill threatens Internet freedom in Turkey”, January 10, 2014

[27] https://www.turkiye.gov.tr/esb-web-sitesi-erisim-engeli-sorgulama

[28] http://mashable.com/2014/11/13/turkeys-twitter-war/#O0I_YXoui8qo , “Turkey’s Twitter war: The president vs. everyone else”, November 13, 2014

[29] www.middleeasttransparent.com/IMG/docx/PfF_2014_eng_report.docx , “Press for Freedom: Violations of Freedom of Press and Expression March — December 2014”, p. 75,

[30]http://www.intgovforum.org/cms/174-igf-2014/transcripts/2023-2014-09-05-ws225-online-freedoms-and-access-to-information-online-room-9 , “Ninth Annual Meeting Of The Internet Governance Forum 2014 Istanbul, Turke: Connecting Continents For Enhanced Multi‑Stakeholder Internet Governance”, Workshop 225 “Online Freedoms And Access To Information Online”, excerpts from talk of media scholar professor Aslı Tunç, September 5, 2014

[31]http://www.intgovforum.org/cms/174-igf-2014/transcripts/2023-2014-09-05-ws225-online-freedoms-and-access-to-information-online-room-9 , “Ninth Annual Meeting Of The Internet Governance Forum 2014 Istanbul, Turke: Connecting Continents For Enhanced Multi‑Stakeholder Internet Governance”, Workshop 225 “Online Freedoms And Access To Information Online”, excerpts from talk of media scholar professor Aslı Tunç, September 5, 2014

[32]http://www.intgovforum.org/cms/174-igf-2014/transcripts/2055-2014-09-04-ws146-anonymity-by-design-room-9 , “Ninth Annual Meeting Of The Internet Governance Forum 2014 Istanbul, Turke: Connecting Continents For Enhanced Multi‑Stakeholder Internet Governance”, Workshop 146 “Anonymity By Design: Protecting While Connecting”, excerpts from talks of participants, September 4, 2014

[33] http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/jun/18/turkey-standing-man , “Turkey’s ‘standing man’ shows how passive resistance can shake a state”, June 18, 2013

[34] http://www.iha.com.tr/haber-erdem-gunduzden-tekzip-286505/ (My refutation/disclaimer letter about Duran Adam = Standing Man Erdem Gündüz on one of the big media companies’ website.), July 15, 2013

[35] http://heavy.com/news/2013/06/erdem-gunduz-standing-man-turkey-duranadam/ , “Erdem Gunduz, ‘The Standing Man’: Top 10 Facts You Need to Know”, June 18, 2013

[36]http://techcrunch.com/2016/05/31/paypal-to-halt-operations-in-turkey-after-losing-license-impacts-hundreds-of-thousands/ , “PayPal to halt operations in Turkey after losing license, impacts ‘hundreds of thousands”, May 31, 2016

[37] http://www.businessinsider.com/paypal-is-shutting-down-in-turkey-2016-6 , “PayPal is shutting down in Turkey”, June 1, 2016,

[38] http://blogs.rsf.org/en/2014/09/06/finally-censorship-in-turkey-gets-a-mention-at-the-igf/ , “Finally, censorship in Turkey gets a mention at the IGF”, September 6, 2014

[39]https://motherboard.vice.com/read/how-twitter-and-facebook-censor-content-without-telling-anyone , “How Twitter and Facebook Censor Content Without Telling Anyone”, November 24, 2014

[40] https://www.academia.edu/12491792/It_is_too_dangerous_to_be_an_individual_in_Turkey , “It is too dangerous to be an individual in Turkey”



Serhat Koç

Legal Consultant, University Lecturer, Keynote Speaker, Activist, Photographer, Pirate, Citizen Journalist, Supporter of “Freedom of Knowledge”