Internet users in Turkey have been downloading a VPN service in anticipation of restrictions on internet use. Mass protests followed the announcement of these plans, first rumored in 2011 with the launch of child-protection Internet filters. Users now flock to internet sites where they publicize their stories and proof of acts of violence committed by the police.
VPN Downloads Reach Unprecedented Numbers
A recent spike in the number of downloads for a VPN service indicates that the Turkish public is preparing for imposed restrictions on their web activities. The VPN is believed to be the first step in protecting their freedom of speech, which they fear will be hampered by the planned constraints.
The announcement came from AnchorFree, the US VPN provider of the mass downloaded HotspotShield VPN. They revealed a 1,000% increase in downloads of the software in a single day, Saturday of last week. Downloads for iPhone and Android devices spiked to 3,000% of the norm, with an 800% increase each day for PC and Mac downloads.
Other application providers have also announced increased mobile application downloads of their software following the pronouncement on internet censorship. Among them are Twitter and Zello, a walkie-talkie app. AnchorFree CEO David Gorodyanski stated that this trend is a sign of how the developing technology of mobile applications and the internet is working to prevent the abuse of “democratic rights and freedoms.”
The Catalyst for Today’s Protests
The launch in 2011 of the internet filtering system was the first public indication that the Turkish government was serious about controlling internet freedoms. The system was designed for the protection of minors, but ISP filters offered two other sets of filters, domestic and standard, thereby covering 3 permission levels for internet content access.
Turkish netizens are now taking a stand against censorship with their move to use a VPN service. VPN services are known tools for bypassing firewalls and getting around internet filters to access blocked content. The Information and Communications Technologies Authority has already restricted access to many sites. In 2007, YouTube was blocked after claims of a video posted there that contained material that insulted the founder of the nation. This agency has since declared that it will block searches including the words “girl” and “partner.”
Fears of greater internet censorship have been brewing since 2007, coming to a boil with the 2011 filter, and are now bubbling over. 30 cities around the country saw internet users gathered in protest over the bans in public locations. Taksim Square is one such gathering place, made a popular protest arena by a proposal to transform it into a shopping center.
The Long Arm of the Law
Legislation is in place under Law 5651 banning websites deemed undesirable by the government. The use of this law grants extensive powers to the Information and Communications Technologies Authority. Yet experts claim acts of censorship which overstep the bounds of the law have been committed.
Social Media’s Role
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s commented on social media as being the biggest threat to society. The prime minister himself has 3 million Twitter followers. Turkish social media users have been flocking to Twitter to share their experiences regarding the nationwide protests that ensued, and to share their own responses to the proposed crackdown. Protests of the current move were organized through Facebook.
Many other websites now show a variety of comments, reactions, and pictures of the recent protests, many containing scenes of police violence.If attention is what they sought, they have succeeded. The world is now well aware of the goings-on in Turkey, and of actions taken against the proposed bans. One such move by the hacktivist group known as Anonymous has the greatest shock value so far.
This week, Anonymous has been spreading to the public through Twitter passwords that will grant people access to a VPN. They also brought down the websites of the Turkish president, the Istanbul Directorate of Security, the ruling Justice and Development Party, and the Istanbul Governor’s Office.This is the group’smessage given on Twitter:
“You have censored social media and other communications of your people in order to suppress the knowledge of your crimes against them. Now Anonymous will shut you down and your own people will warn you from power.”