Turkish government agency collecting all internet users’ activities – report

Complete data belonging to all Internet users in Turkey, including their names and personal information, has been shared with the Government Information and Communication Technology Authority (BTK) for more than a year, Medyascope TV reported Thursday, citing documents of the alleged breach.

Every movement made by Turkish citizens, including the websites they visit, WhatsApp communication, phone calls and location data, is shared hourly with the agency, supervised by a government minister, by the Turkish internet service providers, the news site said.

Mediascope quoted a document dated December 2020which details the scope of BTK’s request for the data of millions of internet users in the country, including the format and mode of data transformation.

The document, signed by BTK Vice President Fethi Azaklı, also includes a warning to internet service providers (ISPs) about penalties if they fail to provide the data of the country’s estimated 89 million users, a- he added.

Internet and social media censorship in Turkey has increased under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s nearly two-decade rule. The government is continuing censorship and surveillance through new regulations aimed at tightening government control and restricting social media companies.

The BTK is chaired by Ömer Abdullah Karagözoğlu, a software engineer who has worked in organizations in Istanbul Municipality, where Erdoğan was mayor and his party controlled until 2019. Ömer Fatih Sayan is the deputy government minister in charge of the BTK. He work adviser to the Prime Minister in the Erdoğan government for seven years and graduated in biomedical, electronics and telecommunications engineering.

According a 2021 Freedom House reportInternet freedom in Turkey has declined for the third consecutive year, with hundreds of websites blocked.

Activity logs, with a user’s full name, IP address, and length of a user’s stay on a website, are provided to BTK as part of a breach that began a while ago. a year and a half, according to Medyascope TV.

The BTK document refers to the need for “more detailed Internet activity data as a legal and preventive measure” and it urges service providers to comply “completely and at all times” with the request for information on the data.

Turkey’s three largest internet service providers by subscribers, Turkcell, Türk Telekom and Vodafone, did not respond to Medyascope TV’s questions about the report, he said.

Senior Vice Chairman of the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Onursal Adıgüzel earlier this month took to Twitter to say that the BTK constantly requests user traffic data from service providers. The BTK did not respond to the complaint.

The Medyascope TV report comes as the Turkish government seeks to pass a bill that would criminalize the spread of fake news and disinformation online.

The Censorship Act provides for prison terms of one to three years for anyone deemed to have publicly disseminated false information concerning national security, public order or public health in general which creates anxiety, fear or panic among the population or disturb the public peace.

Seven major journalism organizations based in the country have expressed concern, warning that the bill ‘could lead to one of the heaviest censorship and self-censorship mechanisms’ in the history of the Turkish Republic, Reuters reported.

(This story has been updated with details on BTK’s handling in the sixth paragraph.)