Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Battle With Google Deepens

A tax dispute with Google has further hindered Internet freedom in Turkey. According to Transportation Minister Binali Yildirim, who is responsible for Internet regulations, Google has made advertising revenues from the YouTube website, access to which Turkey has locked off-and-on again for over two years. As a result of the most recent dispute (the first that has been tax-related), regulators in Turkey's Telecommunications Directorate have seemingly managed to somehow slow down and sometimes completely disable a variety of Google services, including Google Maps, Google Documents, Google Analytics, and even GMail.

The initial cause of the YouTube block involved offensive videos of Ataturk, which despite YouTube/Google's attempt to work with Turkey (see Dec. 8, 2008 post), was consequently blocked. Instead of simply isolating the offensive videos and removing them, Turkish courts and the Telecommunications Directorate took the extraordinary step of blocking the entire website.

The YouTube ban has been facilitated by a 2007 law giving broad powers to courts and the Telecommunications Directorate to regulate the Internet. For more on this law and other websites that have been blocked as a result of its application, see Jan. 24 post. Under the Internet law, either the Telecommunications Directorate or courts have the right to block internet sites that contain content in explicit violation of Turkish law (pertaining to Turkey's many laws against obscenity, morals, slander, insult, etc.).

However, what is different about the most recent bit of meddling is that it is being done by the Telecommunications Directorate without such a reference, though the Transportation Minister has been emphatic that Google is violating tax laws.

Google executives have requested a meeting with the Telecommunications Communication Presidency (TIB), though Yildirim has given little indication that the meeting will result in an agreement.

Lawsuits against the incessant YouTube bans and 2007 Internet law are ongoing, and the European Union (see Progress Reports), the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and watchdog groups like Reporters Without Borders have all weighed in on the issue, but to little avail. The media monitoring website Bianet has also recently filed a lawsuit, claiming the Internet law and most recent Google ban has improperly hindered their operations and output of news content.

For more on the most recent squabble, see Yigal Schleifer's Friday post.

UPDATE I (6/18) -- According to the TIB, an Istanbul court ordered the Telecommunications Directorate to block access to a Google IP address used to access Google applications. The court order was made on June 7.

UPDATE II (6/23) -- The OSCE has weighed in on the most recent dispute with Google. OSCE Media Freedom Representative Dunja Mijatovic announced on Tuesday that she wrote personally to Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu urging the Turkish government to cease blocking/hindering access to YouTube and Google applications, as well as to overhaul its Internet law. Turkish civil society groups have also protested the most recent government actions. Still no word from the government.

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