Report: Government’s surveillance invades social media privacy in Turkey

This paper shows how employees are forced to write down their passwords to their accounts in social media and to their emails. They also have to fill out their family members passwords. Photo: Arbetet

“State employees in Turkey have been forced to participate in an incrimination of their own freedom of thought and expression. State authorities, as employers, have demanded that their employees report their own and their whole family’s passwords to all of their social media accounts. Holding back information could lead to imprisonment,” reported by Swedish media outlet Arbetet.

Sercan Aran, a legal expert of The Confederation of Public Employees’ Trade Unions (KESK) has told Arbetet that “The present government has taken measures that go beyond anything the previous military juntas did. The army has previously registered personal data and the private political opinions of suspected dissidents, but always under secrecy.”

According to the report, now there is a form to be filled in: “Personal details on employees.” The 22,000 employees of the State Hydraulic Works (DSI), which is the state agency responsible for national water resources, are required to share details that include their newspaper subscribtions, which unions and associations they are or have been members of, which bank accounts they have, and which NGOs and charity trusts they contribute to.

The report, written by reported Eşref Okumuş, has also underlined that further questions are directed at social media use. Yet not only on their own use, but also of their family members. Even their passwords are demanded. Employees are also forced to sign an authorization that would allow their employers to access personal accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Linkedin, Google+, Tango, etc.

The authorization employees have to fill out. Photo: Arbetet

This form ends with a treat against false testimony and the sentences: “I hereby attest that the above information is accurate and complete. If this proves false, I accept the penalty imposed by the  law regulating public employment and in accordance with the Penal Code.”

According to Aran at the KESK, state employees at a large number of workplaces have been required to fill in that form, even though their unions advise against compliance. “If you refuse, the least that may risk happen is that you lose your job,” he said.

Arbetet noted that “In normal circumstances, the regime would refer legal challenges to the emergency measures and the so called ‘decrees’, which have replaced labor market regulations since the failed coup attempt last summer. But this ongoing recording of private opinions and expressions of public sector employees and their families completely falls outside lawful regulation.”

“The registration of personal details, as well union membership and political allegiance is in conflict with the constitution,” Aran adds. “This registration is also in breach of a number of international conventions Turkey has signed.”

Arbetet reported that together with colleagues at another of the trade union confederations in Turkey, DİSK, Sercan Aran is looking into the possibility of suing the government. The registration of opinions may be possible to bring to a national or international court, although a potential problem is that members who seek a hearing in court may risk losing their jobs. (However) another problem is that the Constitutional Court, the highest court in Turkey, has rejected hearing any cases that involve the present state of emergency.

Mustafa Şenoğlu, the chairman of ESM, has told Arbetet that an industrial sector union which has 1000 members working at the DSİ water agency. According to ESM, the focus on private opinions is the key reason that a large portion of the 150,000 employees in the country have lost their jobs since the attempted coup in July last year. The same is said about the 50,000 dissidents that have been jailed in this period.

“I am afraid we are on the same path towards a disaster as Germany experienced during the 1930s. Just as the Germans did, we have a government that is in power through the popular vote but one that uses democratic powers to demolish democracy and replace it with a fascist dictatorship,” he added.

Mustafa Şenoğlu adds that the union has encouraged members to refuse to fill in the form as the questions are in breech of the existing laws that protect the freedoms of expression and association. “But unfortunately our members do not listen to us, which we can understand, as it might cost them their jobs,” said he.

The DİSK confederation also has advised their members only to answer the questions that ask for necessary information, and to leave the remainder empty. But the DİSK members too have chosen to comply with their employer’s demand.

“Through the registration of opionions the governement is trying to gain complete control over the labor movement,” says Süleyman Keskin, Secretary General of the workers’ union Enerji-Sen.

“President Erdoğan’s vision of ‘New Turkey’ is a vision without opposition, and the recording of people’s private opinions is part of it,” noted Arbetet.

Scores of people in Turkey have been detained or arrested or are under investigation on allegations of insulting Turkish autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan over their social media posts. As of the end of 2016, at least 10,000 people were under investigation on suspicion of terrorist propaganda and insulting senior state officials on social media.

A total of 1,080 people were convicted of insulting Erdoğan in 2016, according to data from Turkey’s Justice Ministry. Data also showed that 4,936 cases were launched against people on charges of insult in 2016.

Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with President Erdoğan pinned the blame on the  movement.

Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

Turkey’s Justice Ministry announced on July 13 that 50,510 people have been arrested and 169,013 have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges under the rule of emergency. Turkish government has also suspended or dismissed more than 150,000  judges, teachers, police and civil servants thanks to the rule of emergency.

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