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Turkey's PM Erdogan compared to Hitler as Internet censorship bill squeaks past

The Turkish parliament has approved a bill designed to tighten control of the Internet. The law will allow the country's telecommunications authority to block access to websites without acquiring a court ruling first, and will also require Internet service providers (ISPs) to store information on their users and hold it for two years.

The move is widely seen as an attempt by the government to crack down on the use of social media to organise social and political protest. This is because both Twitter and Facebook were used by anti-government protesters to organise protests and share information during demonstrations last year. The demonstrations focused around the closure of one of Istanbul's largest green spaces, Taksim Gezi Park.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has openly criticised the Internet as a damaging social force, calling Twitter "a scourge," and describing social media as "the worst menace to society."

The new law was approved after hours of debate in the Turkish parliament, where the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) holds a majority of 319 out of 550 seats.

The impassioned debate saw Prime Minister Erdogan compared to Adolf Hitler by opposition MP Hasan Oren.

"When you came to power you talked of enhancing democracy in Turkey - now you are trying to implement fascism," he said. "Remember that Adolf Hitler used the same methods when he rose to power."

However, Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc argued that his government wasn't engaging in state censorship, stating that there is "no such thing as internet censorship" in Turkey.

"We are freer compared to many other countries and have freedom of the press," he said.

It's not just the opposition who have been raising concerns, however. The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said that the new power could allow Turkey's telecommunications agency to "gather communications data about all internet users without any legal limits or restrictions" and with users "never... able to know when and how this information is gathered".

Turkey's government has clashed with Internet freedom activists in the past, blocking access to YouTube multiple times over offensive videos relating to the country's founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, and a particularly racy sex tape involving the former leader of the opposition and a serving MP.

Internet access in Turkey is already severely limited, and thousands of websites blocked. Sound familiar?

Image: Flickr (Michael Fleshman; Jordi Bernabeu)