Turkey, known for stringent internet controls, has escalated its efforts to control online information by implementing a ban on several popular virtual private networks (VPNs). The ban, ordered by the Information Technologies and Communications Authority in December 2023, targets VPN services such as TunnelBear, Surfshark, Proton, and CyberGhost.
VPNs, recognized for providing users with encrypted internet traffic and the ability to bypass online restrictions, are now under strict scrutiny in Turkey. The move follows the footsteps of countries like China, Russia, and Iran, where VPN bans are utilized to curb access to blocked websites.
Internet freedom in Turkey has steadily declined over the past decade, earning the country a “not free” status in online freedoms, as reported by the US-based nonprofit Freedom House in October. Widespread censorship is noted, with hundreds of websites, articles, and social media posts being blocked or removed.
The recent ban on VPNs is viewed as a measure to prevent access to blocked websites that could still be reached through these services. This tightening of controls comes ahead of important local elections scheduled for March 31st. Analysts speculate that the ruling Justice and Development Party aims to further restrict civil liberties to maintain dominance in various provinces.
In a concerning trend, internet censorship reports indicate that thousands of domain names, news articles, social media posts, and accounts were blocked in 2022. Notably, the ban’s timing aligns with previous instances where critical information, such as a corruption scandal involving President Erdogan’s son, led to widespread online content restrictions.