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Document proves opposition claims of gov’t agency retrieving personal data of Internet users

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A document revealed on the Medyascope news website has proven opposition claims that Turkey’s Telecommunications Authority (BTK), operating under the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure, has long been retrieving comprehensive personal data and communications metadata from Internet service providers (ISP).

Onursal Adıgüzel, vice president of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), claimed in a tweet thread last month that the BTK had been retrieving personal and communications data of Internet users by ordering 313 ISPs to send them “subscription textures” once every hour in a “confidential” communiqué circulated to them under the pretext of “national security.”

Among the data encompassed by the subscription texture are the name, ID number, date and place of birth, tax number, address, occupation, GSM numbers used for activation, log records, use of VPN, details of network technology used, network ports and protocols used, IP addresses occupied and websites visited along with the duration of visits.

The BTK has released no statements denying Adıgüzel’s allegations so far.

A 15-page document dated December 2020 that was revealed Thursday on Medyascope by investigative journalist Doğu Eroğlu and serves as proof of Adıgüzel’s claims details the scope of the BTK’s request for the data of millions of Internet users in the country, including the format and mode of data transformation.

Signed by BTK Vice Chairman Fethi Azaklı, the document also includes a warning to ISPs on penalties should they fail to provide the data of some 89 million users in Turkey.

The acquisition of such comprehensive personal and communications data poses a legal problem in terms of the privacy of personal data, Medyascope said, since the data retrieved from ISPs enables the government to establish illegitimate sovereignty and control over the digital presence of Turkish citizens, profiling them based on their political views and capturing their social media accounts.

Internet and social media censorship in Turkey has been increasing under the almost two-decade rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. His Justice and Development Party (AKP) government is carrying out further censorship and surveillance through new regulations intending to boost government control and restrict social media companies.

The Medyascope report comes as the Turkish government is seeking to pass a bill that would criminalize spreading fake news and disinformation online.

The law foresees jail sentences of between one and three years for anyone deemed to have publicly disseminated false information regarding national security, public order or general public health that creates anxiety, fear or panic among the public or disturbs peace in the society.

According to a 2021 Freedom House report, Internet freedom in Turkey declined for a third year in a row, with hundreds of websites being blocked.

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