So, you have decided go on vacation in Turkey this year to experience two of the seven wonders of the ancient world; the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus and the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus. While there, you decide to make a tweet about them on Twitter and post a picture of you at each on your Facebook page for friends to see. I hope you remembered to come prepared with a personal VPN because it is likely that one or both of those sites may be blocked by the Turkish government and that many other sites that you might normally visit like YouTube and Reddit are as well. Do not despair if this is the case, below you will find our list of the best VPN services for Turkey to overcome government censorship of the Internet and avoid the increasing government surveillance that seems to be occurring worldwide.
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What is a VPN?
Now that we have seen some of the best VPNs for bypassing Turkey’s ever increasing censorship and surveillance of all Internet communications, let us look at what a VPN is and how it can help you avoid these. A VPN is private group of computers which are securely connected to each other using an SSL tunnel. They have been used for years by businesses to create private networks for their remote employees. It encrypted all traffic sent by devices on the VPN. This allowed their employees to use the free Internet to access internal company applications and data and work from home or other company offices. The VPN allowed them to leverage the cheaper Internet while still protecting the security and privacy of their proprietary company information.
How a VPN Can Help You Overcome Turkish Censorship
A personal VPN service creates a secure tunnel from its server to your computer or other device and sends only encrypted traffic through it. The service then masks your public IP address and assigns you one at the server location. The server then acts as a go between for you and the open Internet. Once the VPN server receives a response it is then encrypted and sent back through the secure tunnel to your device. This allows you to be more anonymous and helps to protect your privacy while using the Internet. It also lets you change your virtual location just by connecting to a server in another country.
So, having a personal VPN service will allow you to choose a server in an uncensored country and set that as your virtual location. This will allow you access to the uncensored Internet, not just what the Turkish government wants you to see. It will also let you bypass the filters at schools, libraries, and other public facilities and access social media sites that may be blocked from those locations. Choosing a server close to you will give you the best performance for local use, social sites, and world news. Furthermore, since all your Internet traffic is encrypted, it will keep the state controlled ISPs from being able to sniff your communications using deep packet inspection. This will help to keep all your Internet surfing habits more private and protect your personal information from been intercepted by third parties. You will also be able to access streaming media sites that are geo-blocked from Turkey like Netflix and Hulu in the United States. Connecting to a server in the US will allow you to watch movies, TV shows, and live events that you would not be able to see otherwise.
Turkey’s Road To Internet Censorship
Turkey was founded in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk as a secular, democratic society. However, since 2002 when Justice and Development Party (AKP) leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan became Prime Minister this has been changing with many fearing the eventual conversion to a religious state. The Muslim based AKP promised to adhere to Atatürk’s secular policy, but a partial ban on alcohol and the conversion of the secular education system to a religious one have caused grave concern for many people in Turkey. Turkey passed an Internet censorship law, Law No. 5651 in 2007 that ostensibly aimed to protect families and minors. Like many western country bans it started with child pornographic sites and then expanded to cover the eight other catologue crimes defined by Turkish Penal Law. The catologue crimes are as follows:
- Incitement to suicide
- Sexual abuse of children, i.e. child pornography
- Facilitation of the use of narcotics
- Provision of substances harmful to the health, i.e. drugs
- Facilitation of gambling
- Crimes against Atatürk, disrespect for Turkey’s founder
Law No. 5651 provided some definitions and organizational structure, a catalogue of crimes, the legal framework for banning websites, and a few procedures.
- It classified ISPs as either access providers, host providers, content providers or commercial usage providers.
- ISPs are required to keep data for one to two years.
- It listed each classifications accountability and responsibilities.
- It requested that access and hosting providers register with and be licensed by the BTK.
- It required that commercial usage providers such as internet cafes apply for and get licenses from local authorities.
- They also must provide a contact and hosting information online.
- It also set penalties and license revocation procedures if requirements were not fulfilled.
- It classified in-country and out-of-country hosting for banning purposes.
- It tasked Presidency of Telecommunication and Communication (TIB), a unit within the Information and Communication Technologies Authority (BTK) with the responsibility of banning and blocking websites based the catalogue crimes.
- ISPs and Internet cafes are required to turn over data to TIB.
- It extended the mandate of TIB to block any website in violation of a catalogue crime without take down warning or court order.
- If the website or hosting is in-country, then the TIB needs a court order to ban it unless they see it as an emergency situation.
- It established procedures for “notice and take down.”
- Request to take down offending content.
- Could result in two month-two years imprisonment by a Penal Court.
- Specifies banning or “curtailing access” via two methods: DNS tampering and IP blocking.
The TIB can unilaterally block or ban the whole website accused of a catalogue crime , when hosted outside of Turkey, via DNS tampering or IP blocking. However, independent courts can ban any website for any reason they see fit under the national laws and regulations. The problem with this is that bans by Penal Courts have many times not been based on these catalogue crimes but also terms like terrorism, organized crime, and crime against the state which are not well defined. The law which was passed in parliament was passed over the objections of Non-Goverment Organizations (NGOs) and members of the Internet sector.
In practice, Internet Law No. 5651 has been used to ban arbitrarily Blogger, Last.fm, Vimeo, WordPress, Geocites, Alibaba, Twitter, Youtube, and most recently Reddit. Often these bans have seemed to be politically or religiously motivated. Sometimes the authority has chosen not to enforce court ordered bans like ones issued for Google and Facebook. As of May 2015, over 80,000 websites have been banned in Turkey. The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Law No. 5651 is against the European Convention on Human Rights.
Websites supporting ISIS and al-Qaeda derivatives, however, are not blocked in Turkey. Sites like takvahaber.net and mustaqim.net, which openly disseminate ISIS propaganda and function as a recruiting tool operate freely in the country. The Turkish government has demanded that Google, Twitter, and YouTube open offices in Turkey. Officials say that they are not paying their share of Turkish taxes. Therefore, they should issue invoices from Turkey and pay their due taxes. More likely though they want them to have a local presence so they can respond swiftly to the demands of Internet censorship when they are issued by a court or the TIB or face jail. Such demands have so far been declined.
Conversion of the secular education system to a religious one was one of the factors that led to the Gezi uprising in mid-2013 (shown at right). During the uprising, millions of demonstrators took to the street in 79 of 81 Turkish provinces. Also in 2013, explicit recordings of corruption transactions in high levels of government were broadcast online. Four cabinet ministers were forced to resign as a result. Social media was instrumental in disseminating news about these events. This led to a more concentrated effort of government to block social websites.
Partly due to the effect of social media on the Gezi protests, an amendment to Law No. 5651 was passed by parliament in February 2014. The amendment introduced fast banning (within four hours) of websites in relation to privacy and personality rights, access by the TIB to logs of all user activities on the internet, URL blocking, IP blocking, and a new government-controlled ISP union. The ISP union let the government centralize and speed up the process of banning websites not only at commercial hosts but also at universities, large corporations and even large families. In September 2014, after Erdogan was elected President, another amendment was introduced as “protecting the esteem and honour of individuals against defamation on the Internet”. This amendment is widely believed to be the result of the fact that the Internet was too efficient at spreading information about corruption at the highest levels of government. In October of 2014 The Constitutional Court overturned critical parts of this amendment. Undaunted, the government of Erdogan waited till key members of the Constitutional Court retired, them reintroduced a harsher version of the amendment which gave website blocking privileges to himself and cabinet ministers for among other nebulous reasons as protection of life, protection of property, and public order.
Over the last year, the Turkish government under President Erdogan has greatly increased its attempts to censor major websites and social platforms, including Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and most recently Reddit. Though the Turkish courts eventually overturned bans on Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook, Reddit is still blocked with its current fate in limbo. Internet filters are voluntary for private use and mandatory in places such as schools and libraries. They work with blacklists of banned websites and whitelists of permitted ones with no transparency as to the sites on either lists. Amendments in 2014 and 2015 to the law regulating access to information on the internet enabled the swift temporary banning of websites by the prime minister and other ministers.
It is uncertain if the trend in Turkey will continue but given the landslide victory that Erdogan and his party AKP achieved, it seems likely that the country may be moving towards a more fundamentalists nation. The recent crackdown on any press opposition has given them an even greater stranglehold on the press in the country. They hold the distinction of putting the most journalists in jail for the past two years, followed by China and Iran. Erdogan wanted to change the Turkish Constitution so that the president has more power and is not just a figurehead position, but he fell just short of the super-majority he needed to be able to set up a Constitutional Committee to do just that. One thing that is for certain is that you will need a personal VPN service if you live, work-in, or are just visiting Turkey in the near future and quite probably for some time to come. This will let you overcome government censorship and avoid increasing surveillance by state controlled ISPs.
Criteria For Choosing a VPN For Turkey
Because of the pervasive deep packet inspection employed by state-controlled ISPs in Turkey, a secure VPN service is essential. Equally important is a VPN that can mask its activities to help avoid suspicion from local ISPs and Internet cafes. Given this fact, let us now look at some of the criteria we looked at when choosing our best VPNs for Turkey. These criteria include a balance of provider trust, speed, reliability, server locations, device compatibility, encryption employed, bandwidth, ease of use, service and support, and cost.
- First as always is do you trust the VPN provider with your personal information?
- How long have they been providing VPN service and what kind of reputation do they have in the industry?
- Are they incorporated outside of Turkey?
- Second, how fast is the VPN service?
- Turkey’s average Internet speed is moderate TTNET ADSL2+(8 Mbit/s to 24 Mbit/s). Higher speeds are available TTNET VDSL2 (25 Mbit/s to 100 Mbit/s).
- Therefore, you should look for a comparable VPN to your access speed.
- This is even more important if you want to use it for e-commerce, social blogging, website creation or design, or accessing steaming media.
- Third, how reliable is the network?
- You want to choose a VPN which is stable and has limited problems with reconnects.
- Fourth, where does it have sever locations?
- Having multiple close locations like Romania, Greece, Cyprus, Ukraine, Moldova, i.e. will help ensure the best possible reliability and speed.
- Locations in the UK, and the US will give you access to steaming sites in those countries.
- Fifth, is it compatible with desktops, phones, tablets or other devices you might want to use with it?
- Does the VPN allow multiple simultaneous connections?
- To save yourself a headache later, you should test all of your devices to make sure that they work with your chosen VPN service.
- Sixth, Is it secure and private to protect your traffic from Turkey’s pervasive Internet surveillance?
- What kind of protocols does it employ? (Protocols are rules for transmitting data).
- A VPN that supports all three protocols: OpenVPN, L2TP/IPsec and PPTP is best in case you experience IPS censorship and throttling.
- OpenVPN (UDP/TCP) (Best mix of security and speed)
- Highly configurable and fast
- Very secure – uses OpenSSL library and SSLv3/TLSv1 protocols to provide encryption algorithms.
- Can bypass firewalls like those in libraries, schools, and other public places in Turkey since it can can be set to run on any port and run TCP on port 443 to mimic normal HTTPS traffic making it hard to distinguish from normal business traffic. Thus it is less likely to experience government ISP throttling.
- L2TP/IPsec – Layer 2 Tunnel Protocol / Internet Protocol Security is the encryption protocol for traffic.
- Built into most devices and easy to set up for mobile devices.
- By default uses UDP port 500 but better if port forwarding is enabled to help scale local firewalls.
- Provides excellent security because it encrypts the data twice
- PPTP – Point to Point Tunneling Protocol
- Considered least secure and supports a variety of devices including routers
- Fast and easy to set up but not considered secure so best for streaming movies and other digital media.
- Proprietary Stealth Technology
- Protocols and/or procedures to make it easy to bypass firewalls that seek to censor Internet access.
- SSTP – Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol
- Largely Windows only platform
- Secure and potentially most stable protocol for Windows
- IKEv2 – Internet Key Exchange version 2, (IPSec based tunneling protocol)
- Provides very secure connections and supports fast, auto-reconnect if VPN drops.
- Particularly good for mobile devices and also supports Blackberry devices.
- Encryption strength – usually AES or Blowfish
- At least 128 bit – not as secure but faster. Should primarily be used for streaming digital media that is geo-restricted from inside Turkey.
- Prefer 256 bit – more secure but slightly slower. This is probably best for connections from Turkey.
- What kind of protocols does it employ? (Protocols are rules for transmitting data).
- Seventh, bandwidth (This refers to how much data (in GB) you can download)
- The best VPNs offer unlimited bandwidth.
- Eighth, ease of use.
- Does the VPN have easy to use clients and make it easy to connect and change servers?
- Ninth, customer service and support
- Does the VPN resolve issues in a timely manner?
- Do they have live 24-hour chat, email ticketing, or phone support?
- Can you contact them without being connected to the VPN? This is in case the VPN website is blocked in Turkey and you have a problem.
- Tenth, How much does it cost?
- Cost is important- spend what your budget can afford.
- Reliability, speed, and security should take precedence over cost when choosing a VPN for Turkey.
- Take advantage of money-back guarantees to test the product on all of your devices to make sure everything is working.
We looked at each of these criteria to choose the best VPNs for Turkey. Additionally, we primarily looked at users in Turkey who want to use a VPN to bypass the censorship imposed by the government of Turkey and allow users access to social, political, and news websites that would otherwise be blocked. This group included Turkish locals, people vacationing in Turkey, or those working there. Additionally, all chosen VPNs will help protect your anonymity and secure all of your Internet activity from state-controlled ISPs and Internet cafes. All of the selected VPNs will also let you stream media if that is your goal as well since all have servers in strategic locations like the US and UK.
Turkey is rapidly becoming one of the most censored countries in the world as its government seeks to consolidate its power. Their Internet laws are being used to block more and more social and political sites not related to the “catalogue of nine” that it originally set out to block. It has been expanded by the AKP led legislature to include sites that have been used to criticize the current government corruption like YouTube, Twitter, and more recently Reddit. Additionally, it has been expanded to allow government leaders the ability to ban sites on undefined terms like public safety which allow them to limit any political parties access to the local populace on the grounds that they just want to cause instability and threaten the public safety. Consequently, those who want access to a free and open Internet only connect to it using a VPN.
When choosing a VPN for Turkey you should look at the following criteria: a balance of provider trust, speed, reliability, server locations, device compatibility, encryption employed, bandwidth, ease of use, service and support, and cost. In looking at these features more weight should be given to trust and security, reliability, and speed than cost. This will help you overcome Turkish censorship and the increasing state-controlled ISP and Internet cafe surveillance. All communications are being continually monitored using deep packet inspection. All internet traffic is saved for a period of one to two years. Using a VPN service will keep your internet traffic from prying eyes. It will let you access the Internet from places like schools, libraries, and Internet cafes without government implemented blacklists. You will also have access to all of your social websites when the government arbitrarily decides to ban them. You will be able to watch many of your favorite movies and TV programs from geo-blocked steaming media providers like Netflix and BBC iPlayer. All of the recommendations that we make for the best VPN for Turkey satisfy most of the above criteria. All have features like stealth protocols or port forwarding to help you overcome censorship and local firewall rules. Each has a money-back guarantee so grab one and test it for yourself.