Turkish Daily News: Turks surf the net under a ninja cloak

Turkish Daily News: Turks surf the net under a ninja cloak Nov 05, 2008

As the number of Internet blockings increase, alternative ways to access banned sites are becoming more popular. Web sites such as vtunnel or ninjacloak allow users to enter blocked sites by hiding their IP address. The irony highlights the legal system’s mistreatment to the medium and lack of technical knowledge


The name might sound a bit funny, but ninjacloak.com is currently one of the most visited Web sites in Turkey. Those wondering why need only type YouTube into an Internet browser anywhere in Turkey.

News of censorship is not new for Internet users here. With access to almost 1,200 sites having being cut so far, Turkey continues to rank high on international censorship rankings, yet there has been no end in the blocking of Web sites.

‘When they ban blogs they are cutting my arteries,’ wrote one of the protesters identifying himself as ‘dodo the bird’ on eksisozluk.com. ‘My use of the Internet is what I write on my blog and what I read on others. And now someone is shutting them off. This is unbelievable.’

The European Union, to which Turkey is trying to become a member, is also critical of the frequent Web site bans, describing them as, ‘disproportionate in scope and duration.’

Access to millions of blog sites was cut last week, when a privately owned sports channel took one blog site to court for broadcasting sports games illegally. After increasing protests by bloggers and the media, the ban was removed, yet questions remain as to how the Internet is treated by judges and by the law itself.

The recent blocking of blogger.com and blogspot.com, not only resulted in protests this time, but also raised questions about the Turkish legal system and its grasp on modern technology.

According to lawyer Fikret Ilkiz, the problem is not one of ignorance, but a lack of technical knowledge about the medium. ‘Judges and lawyers need to be trained in the technical aspects of the Internet, in order to make decisions effective,’ he said.

Burning a whole library for one book

‘The courts are burying their heads in the sand,’ said Mustafa Akgül, head of the Internet Technology Association. ‘They are fighting against the Internet without understanding it. This is just like burning a whole library for one book. With this mentality they are harming Turkey and Turkish citizens.’

Akgül says it is impossible to completely ban the Internet in Turkey with current precautions that have been taken. ‘Censorship will not be effective unless they employ 30,000 people to work on banning technology, just as China does. And that requires a much more sophisticated understanding of the medium.’

China’s censorship of the Internet is by far the biggest and most technical-savvy. With the ‘Great Firewall of China’ project, thousands of people are employed in the country as Internet police. Yet the situation is not that complex in Turkey. By entering Web sites that hide users’ IP addresses, entrance to banned pages is not difficult at all. Hidemyass.com, vtunnel.com, sansursuz.net and ninjacloak.com are only four of many sites that allow users to hide their location. Yet, with increasing demand coming from one specific location, sometimes these sites might be a little slow.

How the law works:

There are several different provisions in the current legal system that can lead to the banning of Web sites. Law 5651, the most commonly referred to and debated article, foresees the banning of any online publication that might be harmful to young people and families. The article describes such content as that which promotes suicide, drug use, gambling, prostitution, sexual abuse of children and obscenity. Any Web site that includes such content can be shut down by the Turkish Telecommunications Board, or TİB, without needing a court decision.

‘We do not need such an article and it should be removed,’ says Behçet Envarlı, Head Secretary of the Turkish Informatics Foundation. ‘We already have existing laws that control such content. In other countries, nongovernmental organizations control whether there are obscenities or offensive content online, through their networks. Why does Turkey not join these networks?’

Law 5651 is not the only law that can lead to the blocking of a Web site, as Behçet Envarlı noted. There are already existing laws, such as intellectual property right laws that can ban Web sites. ‘In the case of closing down blogs, the intellectual property rights law was taken into consideration. But even then, there is an issue of moderation. Why close down all blogs when only one of them is the problem? Judges should always ask what they can do in a case without forgetting to act in moderation,’ he continued.

Moderation was indeed missing when thousands of people were left without their blogs last week. Instead of separating millions of people from their journals and leading millions of people to constantly hide their location, Turkey should think a little bit about moderation.

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