Big Dictator, Big Brother

On October 25th, Forbes released an article concerning technological surveillance by the Turkish government. Kriss Andsten, a senior technical engineer for the Fremont, California-based Procera Networks, resigned from the company after nine years due to a recent request from Turkey about a particular software. Andsten went on record stating that Turkey’s Telekom was looking for a “solution for extracting usernames and passwords from unencrypted [internet] traffic.” This was the breaking point for Andsten, who said that he no longer wanted to be a part of an organization that violated people’s rights, going on to say that this type of request has been demanded from the company before.

After Andsten’s resignation, a Procera Networks spokesman released this statement outlining the platform they stand on:

“Procera Networks strongly supports the core principles of human rights and dignity for people around the world. We provide technology that helps telecom operators run their businesses more efficiently and enhance their customers’ user experience. We do not provide technology for surveillance. We align our business with all applicable laws and globally-recognized standards of operations. Under the new management team established in the last year at Procera, we have continued to strengthen our policies and processes to help ensure that our products are used as intended.”

Suspiciously, right after statement was released, a few other statements about the company’s evolution over the past few years were also leaked to Forbes. According to partners of the company, they described Procera as beginning to focus more on “regulatory compliance [and] bulk surveillance.” Another said that the company shifted its focus to more “business ethics, not human ethics.” Finally, several employees went on record stating that Telekom not only requested username and password access, but also wanted a software upgrade that could give them access to individual I.P addresses, what sites people had visited, and users’ time logs. A concern for protecting privacy seems to be lacking from Procera’s ethos.

Thankfully, not everyone in the company feels the same way about the transformation of Procera. Engineers in the company have opposed being a part of an organization that cooperates with Turkish surveillance, and in so doing violates numerous human rights. President Erdogan’s preoccupation with power and manipulation has caused Turkish citizens to fear for their safety. In several cases, people in Turkey have been punished for exercising freedom of speech on social media. A 14-year-old was arrested for criticising Erdogan on Facebook, and another was arrested for turning Erdogan’s face into a meme of Gollum from Lord of the Rings. After the failed coup this summer in Turkey, laws were intensified to the point where any individual or organization deemed to have any sort of connection with Fethullah Gülen (a Turkish cleric in exile in the United States whom Erdogan believes masterminded the coup) faces prosecution.  Because of these legal changes, Turkish Ministry of Education personnel were suspended and investigated, over one thousand university deans were asked to resign, and more than two thousand judges and prosecutors were detained, all because of the alleged connections to Gülen and their disloyalty to Erdogan.

The Forbes article stated that Telekom would not comment on the username and password extraction capabilities, but they did release a statement saying they are “highly sensitive regarding protection and confidentiality of customers’ personal data and [that they] fully comply with the rules and regulations [they] work within.” The only reason they are not responding to the username and password extraction is because Law No. 5651 of their internet regulations require every telecom company to log and store user activity for up to 2 years and submit that data to the government when requested by court. Turkey did not want to admit that the only reason they wanted access was to see who truly supports Erdogan. However, Turkey found a loophole through the Homeland Security Act of 2015 that allows the Turkish government to spy on people’s internet connections for up to 48 hours without needing to record that data. This loophole is what drove Turkey to find better software that can monitor larger groups of people with less hassle.

Procera’s surveillance seems to be a clear violation of privacy rights, and an infringement upon freedom of speech. The recent resignations  leave little doubt that this software development is being used for dark reasons. On a personal note, my friends in Turkey used to tell me how they fear for the future of Turkey and how poorly Erdogan wields the power of his office, conducting himself as a dictator who desperately wants to stay in power. Now those same friends are afraid to write to me for fear of their messages being intercepted. Some even plan on leaving the country.

In recent years, the United States has become more reluctant to interfere in foreign countries’ internal affairs. American meddling in other nations’ politics can be expensive, embarrassing, and ultimately detrimental to everyone’s interests. But most countries look up to the United States as a the world’s only superpower. How can we be taken seriously if we allow our own allies to infringe on people’s privacy and their human rights?

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