EU sells out on Data Privacy in Turkey


Turkey has, after decades, finally implemented a data protection law. But that's not actually good news according to critics, who say the law further empowers a totalitarian regime. Add to the mix refugees, accusations of a sell out by the EU, and a hard line taken by Turkey, and this unsavory compromise is about more than data protection.

Back in 1981 Turkey signed a treaty addressing data privacy but it was never ratified. In 2008 a Draft Law was proposed, which followed the provisions of the EU's Data Protection Directive. Turkey, eager to join the European Union, is currently in Candidate status. Adherence to EU standards for Data Protection law is one of many criteria that must be met for Turkey to gain member status.

The Draft Law languished in Parliament for years because, many believe, the government was not willing to implement a law that met the EU's extremely strict criteria for complete independence of the data protection authority.

Then at the end of March 2016, the recent data protection bill was suddenly and rapidly pushed through Parliament. Rather than meeting the EU's previous requirements, this revised bill grants the government unfettered power to collect and use personal data for their own purposes, without restriction.

The Turkish Intelligence service now has the right to demand any and all data without a warrant, to use as they please. Citizens have no rights and are not allowed to know what data was collected, nor the reason why. Citizens can be searched and arrested without cause as Turkey moves closer to becoming a surveillance state.

Civil rights groups have long been critical of the repressive practices in Turkey which target dissidents and journalists, take down websites, and conduct intrusive spying and surveillance operations against citizens. The new laws, critics say, will be used to further the authoritarianism of the Turkish state, which already arrests people for insulting the president.

"This law is the embodiment of Orwell's 1984," said Cemal Okan Yuksel, MP for Turkey's Republican People's Party. "It will lead us to a totalitarian regime. Citizens will be stripped naked in front of the state."

The EU and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are being sharply critised for neglecting human rights and betraying core values in accepting the new data protection law, and agreeing to other demands by Turkey. Turkey aspires to membership in the EU with its many benefits. Visa-free travel in Europe is Turkey's immediate and non negotiable demand.

Turkey's upper hand is the flow of refugees into Europe. The best way to manage that influx of migrants is to stop them in Turkey, which Turkey is willing to do as long as its terms are met. The terms include nearly $7 billion in aid, and visa-free access to Europe.

In order to earn visa-free travel, there are over 70 requirements Turkey must meet. There were 5 remaining:

  • Strengthening the independence of Turkey's data protection authority and bringing law enforcement activities within its scope
  • Adopting anti-corruption measures
  • Judicial cooperation with EU member states
  • Full cooperation with Europol
  • Reforming Turkey's anti-terrorism law to align its definition of terrorist acts with the EU so journalists or academics merely expressing opinions can no longer be dealt with as terrorists

And so, after decades of waiting, Turkey's Data Protection Law in fact protects little. It is a casualty of the deal struck between the increasingly authoritarian government of Turkey, and an EU willing to cast aside its core values to stem the flow of refugees.