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Rule of law: Turkish court nixes government Twitter ban ... for now

VPNs and TOR still in heavy use despite DNS crackdown

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A court in Turkey's capital has ordered the lifting of the government ban on Twitter in the restless nation.

The administrative court in Ankara overturned the week-long ban on Wednesday in response to complaints by journalists’ unions and the country's Bar Association, representing its lawyers, that blocking Twitter contravened their "freedom of information and communication", The New York Times reports.

The ruling may yet be the subject of appeal but as things stand, the court will pass on its order to lift the ban to the country's telecommunication authority, the TIB.

The whole saga kicked off earlier this month when Twitter users shared a series of (strenuously denied) allegations of corruption amongst high-level officials in Turkey.

Twitter was allegedly slow to comply with local court orders about removing this content, prompting Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government to push for a wholesale block on the micro-blogging service. Critics of the government had been using Twitter to share leaked recordings of telephone conversations between Erdogan and his inner circle.

Turkey banned Twitter by modifying national DNS registry settings as well as ordering ISPs to block Twitter's IP addresses.

Turkish ISPs simply redirected surfers attempting to visit Twitter's homepage by pointing DNS servers to a government webpage informing local users about the micro-blogging blockade. Alternative IP addresses – such as 8.8.8.8 and 8.8.4.4 – allowed users to connect to Twitter via Google's DNS service for a while, until those too were blocked.

Turks still found ways around the ban using proxies, VPN software and the TOR anonymisation network. The net result was an increase in tweets from people in the country and much more widespread use of the TOR network.

Some people got around the ban by sending SMS messages, as suggested by Twitter itself.

VPN software package Hotspot Shield became one of the most searched for topics in Turkey and was downloaded over 270,000 times in the first 24 hours of the ban, according to developers of the software. By Monday (24 March), HotSpot Shield had been downloaded over 1.1 million times in Turkey.

David Gorodyansky, chief exec and founder of AnchorFree, the developers of Hotspot Shield said: "With the increased power of the individual, governments have attempted to crack down on internet democracy. Yet, for every new way a government tries to stifle its citizens’ voices, people will find tools that will grant them freedom of speech."

AnchorFree has witnessed increased use of VPNs in areas of civil strife, ranging from Egypt and other countries involved in the Arab Spring to Venezuela, where civil unrest is beginning to boil over. ®

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