Wednesday, April 1, 2009


Bloomberg has a timely article about a troubling trend in Turkey: the growing use of wiretaps, both legal and illegal. From the article:
A proliferation in wiretapping and bugging, bolstered by official investigations into people suspected of plotting against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government, is generating waves of anxiety in Turkey. Retired generals and executives have found private conversations showing up in prosecutors’ indictments or the media.

In response, sales of anti-bugging devices have more than doubled this year, according to DijitalTakip Electronics, an online retailer.

About 70,000 phones in the nation of 72 million people are being tapped by court order, Justice Minister Mehmet Ali Sahin said in a TV interview on March 17. There’s also illegal recording, and that’s making the public “nervous and insecure,” he said. Turkey has about 85 million phone lines.

“Everyday, stories based on these recordings appear on some Internet site, and then find their way into the rest of the press,” Sahin, 58, told NTV television. “I don’t believe any court ordered these people to be bugged.”

Authorities don’t know who’s behind the unlawful surveillance, said Mevlut Aktas, a spokesman at police headquarters in Ankara. Law enforcement officials are aware of the public’s concerns and are investigating, he said....

....Bugging equipment is getting more sophisticated and laws to stop illegal recording can’t always keep pace, Justice Minister Sahin said. That makes it hard for authorities to act, he said.

So Turks are buying anti-bugging devices. Osman Kacmaz, a judge at Sincan criminal court in Ankara, has one on his desk.

“We hear about our verdicts from the press even before we sign them,” Kacmaz told Kanal D television in an interview. “This is the most essential device for us now, as we all know everyone is being bugged, though we don’t know by whom.”

Demand for such equipment has more than doubled in the last few months, said Kerem Kaya, whose company DijitalTakip Electronics sells jamming machines over the Internet. They cost between $300 and $700 apiece, and many of the customers are government officials and businessmen, he said in a phone interview. The jammers block wireless bugging of rooms.
Court ordered wiretaps have been crucial for the prosecution in the ongoing Ergenekon coup plot case. But illegal wiretaps have also played a major role in how the case is playing out in the court of public opinion, with surreptitious recordings of phone conversations of the accused or their relatives making their way to various websites and from there into the pages of pro-government newspapers. So far, there has been little discussion in the Turkish press -- particularly among those papers that have been on the listening end of the wiretaps -- about the civil liberties implications of what's going on.

For now, nobody seems to be safe. On a recent television interview, prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was asked if he's concerned about his phone being tapped. "What do you think? Of course. Therefore I watch what i say over the phone. I'm not comfortable speaking over the phone," Erdogan told his interviewer on Turkey's NTV news network.

"I tell people who want to speak on the phone to come visit me. And against monitoring, I watch where I am." Good advice.

No comments: