Are Turkey and NetClean Partnering to Stop Child Abuse or Curtail Internet Freedoms?

the Presidency of Telecommunication and Communication in Turkey is in charge of Turkey's legally justified internet restrictions.

The Presidency of Telecommunication and Communication in Turkey is in charge of Turkey's legally justified internet restrictions (Screenshot taken from website)

For a few weeks now, digitally active circles in Turkey have been displaying concern over a move by the Turkish government to introduce new Internet controls.

A recent Hürriyet Daily News piece reported that Turkey is planning to work with a Swedish company, NetClean, to fight against child sexual abuse cases (CSA) as part of a supposed €40M deal. But the Hurriet Daily News report also implied exactly what many digital activists already fear, namely that CSA is just a pretext to intensify state pressure on Internet freedoms in Turkey: the last two restrictive Internet Laws passed in Turkey were created primarily in the name of fighting against CSA.

Nevertheless, the government passionately falls back on the same apparent motivation in each subsequent attack on the web.

NetClean describes itself as follows:

NetClean provide intelligence solutions to detect, block and analyse digital media to create a safer society. We are the leading developer of technical solutions to fight child sexual abuse material. Our solutions are being used worldwide by multinational companies, government agencies, internet service providers and law enforcement professionals.

On 25 June 2014, NetClean's blog admitted they were in negotiations with Turkey, although the post itself reveals little, simply reiterating company policy. European Digital Rights Group (EDRi) executive director Joe McNamee pointed out in a blog post titled ‘Turkish censorship – Swedish built, by Royal Appointment’, that:

As early as 2005, even the Queen of Sweden was used by NetClean to sell its products. NetClean is marketed (“through its amazing network of contacts”) and financed by the “World Childhood Foundation” which was launched by Queen Silvia in 2005. In June 2012, the Swedish Embassy in Japan organised an event to discuss blocking in that country, together with Christian Berg, NetClean’s CEO and Queen Silvia. The promotion of the commercial interests of a Swedish company in this event… well, this was not a coincidence.


Joe McNamee also states:

The fact that Turkey has been condemned by the European Court of Human Rights repeatedly for illegal internet blocking and filtering  appears to be completely unproblematic for NetClean or its high level political backers in the Swedish or European hierarchies.

Perhaps the best-written post about NetClean's cooperation with Ankara is a Turkish language blog post written by the blogger Kus on Kus emphasized that NetClean services will primarily be used for URL-based bans. With the notorious new Internet Law approved earlier this year, the government planned to move towards URL-based blocking instead of shutting down websites. However, with weak domestic cyber-capacity, the government appears to have decided, like many authoritarian states do, to buy targeting services abroad.  

The Turkish Constitutional Court recently annulled Turkey's controversial Twitter ban, issuing a ruling that implied only URL-based blocking remains as a strategy for the government to control online content. Many Internet freedom champions believe the Turkish government intends to use the NetClean deal to gather personal data for more surveillance.

Many activists believe NetClean's appearance across the country's internet space may mark the beginning of a real Deep Packet Inspection system of surveillance by the Turkish State, justified under the new law. Prof. Kırlıdoğ's guest post at the EDRi site sums up these anxieties.

DPI surveillance implies that user content may also be subject to increasing government control from now. As noted in a post on the ars technica blog in January last year:

Microsoft has released a security advisory concerning a fraudulent digital certificate for all Google domains apparently created by the Turkish government. The certificate, which was created by a subsidiary Certificate Authority issued to the transportation directorate of the city government of Ankara, could have been used to intercept SSL traffic as part of a “man in the middle” attack to spoof Google's encryption certificate and decrypt secure Web sessions to Google Plus and GMail.


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