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Phone app used by minister slammed for unlawful personal data acquisition

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An application on Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu’s smartphone that can determine a person’s identity in just a few seconds after his photo is taken with the phone has drawn criticism from legal experts, police, opposition politicians and social media users for allegedly acquiring and storing people’s personal data illegally.

Soylu introduced the application called “KİM” (Who), which is normally used in intelligence operations, in a video released on the YouTube channel of Turkey’s biggest online technology website, ShiftDelete.Net, on Sunday.

In the video Soylu takes a photo of his interviewer, Hakkı Alkan, from ShiftDelete.Net and the app identifies him in seconds.

“The [Turkish] Interior Ministry is one of the best in the world in utilizing technology. … This state has immense powers. What I’m showing you right now is only one in a hundred thousand,” Soylu then says.

Both the application and the fact that it is used by a minister, who is a member of a political party, in addition to Turkey’s intelligence agencies and counterterrorism unit, drew criticism on social media, with many arguing it acquires and stores personal data illegally.

“Just imagine the program installed on the phone of someone in contact with members of a criminal organization. It would notify you within seconds if there is a search and arrest warrant, and you would be able to flee instantly. … [Soylu] carries the country’s intelligence program in his jacket pocket,” Turkish police union Pol-Sen said in a series of tweets.

Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) MP Gürsel Tekin stated that the application’s upload to the Apple App Store poses a “security issue,” as Apple has access to all applications uploaded there.

“Investigating, using, and processing personal data, including biometric data belonging to 85 million citizens, in such an arbitrary manner through a US-based website is a crime. The interior minister can’t access, observe or process personal data arbitrarily,” Tekin added.

Lawyer Sevgi Erarslan also tweeted that the use of the application by Soylu goes against the constitution, Law No. 6698 on the Protection of Personal Data, which was adopted during the time in office of the current Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, and the Council of Europe’s Convention No. 108 for the Protection of Individuals with regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data that Turkey also ratified during AKP rule.

“The minister of interior is proudly demonstrating his ability to instantly access citizens’ private information through a special application installed on his iPhone. … A magnificent monument of internal and external security,” academic Can Gürses said in an ironic tweet.

The Criminal Law Academy, founded by Turkish lawyers who work in the field of criminal justice, underlined that conducting arbitrary biometric scans through the application constituted the crime of “illegally obtaining and disseminating personal data” under Article 136 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), adding that minister Soylu has no immunity for committing a crime.

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