By Ozge Ozbilgin
Turkey’s parliament passed a law tightening Internet controls and expanding the powers of its telecoms authority late on Monday, weeks after a new government took office pledging the beginning of a “new Turkey”.
The move comes on top of legislation passed in February that made it easier for the authorities to block access to web pages without a prior court order, prompting public anger and raising concern about free speech.
The new law expands those powers, allowing the TIB telecoms authority to block sites if it is deemed necessary for matters of “national security, the restoration of public order and the prevention of crimes”. The February law limited these powers to cases of privacy violations.
The new legislation also gives the TIB, which reports to the prime minister’s office, access to individuals’ browsing history without a court order.
The reforms are part of the first package of legislation passed by parliament since Tayyip Erdogan, prime minister for more than a decade, was sworn in as president last month.
Erdogan won Turkey’s first popular vote for the presidency on Aug. 10 after one of his most difficult years in office, rebounding from protests against his perceived authoritarianism last summer and a corruption scandal a few months later.
February’s law was seen by government critics as part of a bid to stifle the corruption investigations after alleged recordings of ministers and Erdogan were leaked on social media.
Erdogan cast the scandal as a plot orchestrated by his ally-turned-foe, U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, whose followers wield influence in the police and judiciary.
Following the leaked recordings, Turkey blocked access to Twitter in March, drawing international criticism.
The text of the new law, which must now be approved by Erdogan, said it aimed to prevent delays in acting against violations of national security and public order threats.
A deputy from the main opposition CHP party said the vague wording gave the telecoms authority too broad a scope.
“This could lead to arbitrary practises,” CHP deputy Aydin Ayaydin told Reuters, saying it was “extremely wrong” to give the authority to block such access to an institution which reports directly to the government.
Turkey already has strict Internet laws under which thousands of websites have been blocked, from news portals viewed as close to Kurdish militants to gay dating sites.