What you need to know
Turkey's Internet censorship regime shifted from "moderate" to "severe" in late 2016 following a series of social media shutdowns, regional Internet blackouts and restrictions on VPN and Tor circumvention tools documented by independent digital rights watchdog (Wikipedia is blocked in Turkey).
Regularly blocked sites include ALL social media sites, Facebook, WhatsApp, Skype, Instagram and Google services etc.
Law 5651 as amended February 2014 provides for some of the strictest censorship and monitoring of users in the world. If you visit or live in Turkey and want to use the internet, Law 5651 will affect you!
Under the law Internet Service Providers (ISP's) are required to monitor, in real time, everything users do and save that data for two years. Websites visited, web searches, forums, emails, Skype, Youtube, Facebook and Twitter etc. This is done by using advanced Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) equipment similar that used in Iran and China.
If a user is accessing or communicating information deemed to be "insulting", access may be blocked to the site or your access to the internet terminated. In addition the law provides for the issuing of swinging new fines and in some cases imprisonment. There is no appeal.
For those who wish to read the actual details, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe issued a Briefing Paper on the proposed amendments in January. The Turkish Parliament adopted the bill in its entirety on 05 February 2014.
If you visit or live in Turkey you have 3 options:
- Don't use the internet.
- Use the internet with great care but don't expect to be able to access all websites.
- Use an encrypted VPN (Virtual Private Network).
(1) If "option 1" doesn't appeal to you, let's consider the other two.
(2) Tens of thousands of websites are already blocked in Turkey and the number is growing. Access to any website can now be blocked from Turkey at the drop of a hat and without a court order. The old method of bypassing blocks by changing the computer or routers DNS settings will no longer work, neither will proxy servers.
(3) Many people in countries with tight internet controls have taken to using VPN's to bypass content blocked by governments and ISP's and to protect their privacy on the internet. There is nothing illegal or shady about using a VPN's and they are pretty much a necessity for travellers these days as logging into your bank and other secure accounts from any public network is just asking for trouble.
If you don't know what a VPN is or how they work, Gizmodo.com gives a brief but good explanation.
If you scroll down the page a little it explains the 5 different protocols used for encryption and VPN tunnels, note the Secure Shell (SSH) protocol, this is what we recommend because PPTP is not the most secure and can be blocked at the press of a button by the ISP.
Choosing a VPN service
There are hundreds of providers offering VPN services. My tecky husband spent countless hours researching and testing to find which one(s) are the best suited for use in Turkey and Europe. Access to many big name VPN's is also blocked in Turkey so those wont work here.
Our requirements were:
- Uptime - A service that doesn't work is neither use nor ornament.
- Speed - The internet is slow enough in my area, We don't want a VPN slowing it down even more.
- Price - Free or cheap, We are not made of money.
- Multiple Gateways - We might want to access restricted internet TV in UK or USA which would require an IP address in those countries.
- SSH Encryption Options - As mentioned above.
- Privacy - We don't have anything to hide but we don't want to be tracked by Google or anyone else.
Here's what he learned:
- Don't use a free VPN - They are either very slow, bombard you with advertising, track you themselves or worse still "Honey-pots" set up to steal your passwords or covertly install undesirable programs on your machine.
- Read the small print - Some look good at first glance until you discover you have to pay extra for your needs.
- TOR will not do and are now blocked in Turkey - Whist he has great respect for the "Onion Routing Project" it is just too slow and their network has been compromised too many times. Plus it does not provide our requirement #4.
So which service do we now use?
Surfshark are big enough to provide us with a great service yet not that well known to be on Turkeys hit list, they currently have Servers in 38 Countries (Aug 2018), including of course UK and USA, that's important because using a gateway in a country far away will definitely slow down speeds. The service can be used on just about every device and operating system and there is also a web browser extension. They have great reviews from the internet community especially for the ease of use of their apps. Their Client Support Service is great and their prices are highly competitive and cheaper than many of the big names.
If you intend to visit Turkey for a short time and want to use your device to access your favourite websites, Facebook, Twitter, Skype, Youtube, WhatsApp, Instagram etc. safely & securely, you could buy a one month subscription for just over £9 (about €10) and use unlimited devices on the one subscription. A whole year is only 71.88 USD that's about £55 (or €62) and for a limited period only they are offering 2 years service at a special discount price of $83.76. All their packages come with a 30 day money back guarantee.