When you look at the the area of internet censorship, it’s of course easy to guess who’s the most restrictive – places like China and North Korea are well known for the control they exercise on access to the internet. However some of the worst culprits for censoring the web are actually fully fledged democracies who’s governments still feel it’s necessary to take unmandated control of what citizens can see online.
Turkey is of course one such example. a democracy which is often run along dictatorial lines by Recep Erdo?an who blocks thousands of websites with no real apparent plan. Anything can be deemed to offend on political, cultural and religious grounds – even large social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook have been blocked at various times. The latest such democracy to instigate a purge is India who have decided to try and block access to most online porn by it’s citizens.
As it happens India has a reputation of censorship both online and other areas much of these are rooted in ethnic and religious sensitivities. India has of course been in the news over the last few months with it’s numerous violent attacks on women, a subject covered in a BBC documentary called India’s Daughters which was also subsequently banned. The latest wide block on internet pornography in India is however by far the biggest with most ISPs and telecoms firms being instructed to restrict access to 857 sites.
Of course, the block in some ways is pretty irrelevant to many who are able to use proxies and VPNs like Overplay which has some Indian based VPN servers. These will bypass all the blocks that the Indian Government has instigated with out too much trouble. Although the problem is that although these tools are very inexpensive, in a country like India many people will be unable to afford such tools which means that only the very poor are actually being censored.
Using a VPN relays your connection through an outside server and also blocks content filters by encrypting the connection. You can use them on any device including Smart Phones, tablets like iPads and even things like network enabled TVs. The technology that India is currently using is completely ineffective if a VPN either locally or even a US VPN is utilised. There are worries though that this might be the first major step in creating something more effective such as the Great Firewall of China. It would be a worrying development if the world’s biggest democracy goes down this route especially in a country predicted to overtake the population of China in the next few years.
There are approximately 10 million Twitter users in Turkey but many are reporting bad news. It appears that the social networking site popular across the word has been blocked to many Turkish based users by the country’s telecommunication’s regulator. It’s not quite clear whether this ban has been implemented completely but certainly many users are reporting being redirected towards a warning page when trying to access Twitter.
Here’s the message one mobile phone user got when trying to reach the site.
Twitter and indeed other social networking sites have of course been banned before in Turkey, YouTube was offline for about 2 years before the block was lifted. This time the Turkish Government have been more up front about the ban with the Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan vowing to ‘wipe out Twitter’.
He is quoted as saying
“I don’t care what the international community says at all. Everyone will see the power of the Turkish Republic,”
The reason is very probably linked to numerous documents being posted reportedly showing evidence of the widespread corruption relating to the Prime Minister. There have been numerous allegations including recordings of telephone conversations where the prime minister discusses where to hide various huge amounts of money so investigations can’t find them.
Mr Erdogan is of course citing other reasons and legal issues but the reality is very plain to the majority of people and all the Turks I have spoken. Corruption is rife among the upper echelons of the Turkish Government and Twitter is allowing people to speak about it – hardly surprising it’s being banned.
Of course it’s utterly futile and in many senses only serves as an admission of guilt in many people’s eyes. The ban will be circumvented and there are a myriad other ways that any information can be circulated just as quickly, blocking Twitter is just plain stupid.
If you need some help getting into the site then just use a program like Identity Cloaker illustrated here which will bypass all the Turkish web sites blocks quickly and easily. If you want to try it first the demonstration version of Identity Cloaker is available free here for download actually allows access to Twitter so you could use this version for free to access the site and a few others.
At the moment the press is full of the stories of cyber spying, surveillance and the NSA whistleblower – William Binney. Fair play to the man, it takes courage to stand up against the NSA but he’s definitely not the first. This particular organisation have been spying on our internet traffic for years and the huge spying complex being completed in Utah is merely the centralization of a spying network which has been up and running for many years. I am of course referring to the infamous Room 641A in San Francisco which was brought to the public attention by another brave whistle blower – Mark Klein.
Mark Klein was a contractor like William Binney working in AT&Ts switching center – a major part of the US internet backbone, when he became aware of a particular room in this building run by the NSA. Room 641A had been set up as a network tap, with effectively all the internet traffic that passed through this center being copied and routed into this room.
Inside the high security of this room sat a device called the Narus STA 6400 – a device capable of intercepting and analysing huge amounts of network traffic. No prizes for guessing what was going on here then! Mark Klein, gathered some proof together and exposed the room and it’s function to the world, leading to a court case brought by the EFF.
William Binney has brought the story up to date, and demonstrates that the NSA have never really stopped gathering this data. Here’s the story from Democracy Now – (edited ‘cos they deserve a link!)
The reality is that this new facility is no real secret, nor the methods being utilized by the world’s security organisations. There were lots of ‘Room 641As’ all across the US and indeed the world, capturing, logging and storing details of all the network traffic on the planet. It was always going to happen anyway, at least while we used an open, distributed and shared network like the internet to communicate.
The Mark Klein episode was nearly a decade ago now, and obviously just rooms are not quite enough nowadays. There’s lots of talk about legality, permission and here in the UK the Foreign Minister insisting that legal due process is always followed. The reality is that it’s much, much easier for a security organisation to capture all traffic – emails, web browsing, phone calls, search enquiries and everything else than it is to selectively capture the communications of individual suspects. Far simpler to dump the whole lot into huge databases and then data mine, or search for the information you require. If they could somehow just harvest ‘terrorist related data’ then I’m sure nobody would mind very much but they can’t. The data is ours –
this data is your web history, your emails, your search history – what you do online – at anytime from anywhere.
Had a few drinks? Watched Zero Dark 30? Then proceeded to flounder around the web using lots of ‘terrorist keywords’ . Well it doesn’t matter if you’re a kitchen fitter from Manchester – you’ll raise a few flags on a database somewhere…..and it could very well be via PRISM and the NSA, who might mention it to GCHQ!
Anyone who would believe that all this data would sit untouched, unmonitored and unanalysed until it’s needed is I’m afraid sadly deluded. Effectively we’re all turned into suspects – the PRISM project and the huge UTAH surveillance center changes nothing except perhaps the efficiency and scope.
So that’s it, all semblances of privacy whilst using any form of electronic communication gone. Millions of people’s privacy waved aside on the chance of catching the odd terrorist now and again. Of course there is another issue there, there are ways of keeping your privacy even now such as using a VPN. The methods of using security products, VPNs, false IP addresses and encryption can ensure that your data is not accessible by these broad sweeping exercises. Of course this is what the terrorists will do, at least the ones with a half a brain cell between them.
Which leads to the conclusion that the NSA will most only be snooping on the innocent….
I’m not sure of everyone else but when I hear that someone has been convicted of blasphemy, I instantly think it refers to the medieval ages or at least a long time ago. However this latest news story refers to a composer and pianist who has been convicted of blasphemy by a supposedly secular Turkish court.
The court has convicted the pianist and composer – Fazil Say of blasphemy and inciting hatred, for a series of Tweets that he made last year. The ten month sentence has been suspended however any similar offence would mean he’d be imprisoned, in a Turkish prison.
So what did he say ?
Well one message he tweeted a verse from a Persian poet called Omar Khayyam which attacks the pious and their hypocrisy. I’m not sure if anything happened to Omar but it sounds like 11th Century Persia was a little bit open minded about free speech than present day Turkey.
Other tweets made fun of certain religious practices and in particular teasing people about the Muezzin (the Muslim call to to prayer). All this apparently amounts to blasphemy in the country that was once a beacon for secular rule and free speech in the Muslim world.
Of course the fact that Fazil Say had been openly critical of the ruling party and the Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, may have something to do with this ridiculous ruling. Other artists and intellectuals are increasing being targeted for any criticisms voiced in public.
Turkey is a wonderful country, however the ideals set out by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk seem to be slowly losing their importance in this country.
I have no religion, and at times I wish all religions at the bottom of the sea. He is a weak ruler who needs religion to uphold his government; it is as if he would catch his people in a trap. My people are going to learn the principles of democracy, the dictates of truth and the teachings of science. Superstition must go. Let them worship as they will; every man can follow his own conscience, provided it does not interfere with sane reason or bid him against the liberty of his fellow-men.
Many organisations have expressed concern, including the European Union. The EU Foreign Policy chief suggested that Turkey must respect the principle of freedom of speech. Fazil Say has not commented much yet, other than to express his disappointment at the ruling. He has suggested previously that he would leave the country if convicted, which of course as an International star he is able to do.
I know lots of Turkish people and have family there, this decision will not be popular. Turkish people are relaxed, fair minded and value freedom of expression as much as anyone. But the sad reality is that slowly Turkey becoming a society where people are scared to speak their mind. Slowly the internet is becoming more and more filtered in Turkey mainly due to pressure from religious groups. If you want to surf the internet without Government filters and controls you will already need to use something like a USA proxy server or similar.