It has been reported that the chair of Amnesty International in Turkey and 10 other Amnesty activists have gone on trial in Istanbul in one of the most high-profile tests of Turkish criminal law since the failed coup in 2016 led to tens of thousands of arrests and dismissals from public office. Taner Kılıç, chair of Amnesty in Turkey since 2014, is on trial on two separate charges, largely on the basis of allegations that he downloaded a widely available phone messaging application called ByLock.
Amnesty disclosed that it has conducted two forensic examinations of Kılıç’s phone, including one by the international technology firm SecureWorks, and found no trace of the ByLock app on the phone. Such an investigation could not be totally conclusive, but security experts say it would take “a highly skilled technical operator” to remove all trace of the app from the phone. Amnesty pointed out that downloading ByLock should not of itself be a crime since the app had been downloaded over 600,000 times throughout the world between April 2102 and April 2016. But in a landmark case the Turkish supreme court in September ruled that the ByLock app was redesigned exclusively for the use of Gülenist members, and was therefore sufficient grounds to find someone guilty of being member of a terrorist organisation. Lee Munson, Security Researcher at Comparitech.com commented below.
Lee Munson, Security Researcher at Comparitech.com:
“The case of Taner Kilic, and many other Turkish nationals, is reminiscent of the movie Minority Report as officials deem guilt based on the use of an app that is in no way the preserve of criminals or terrorists.
Like any other piece of technology, ByLock is totally neutral in its ideology, the way in which it is used signifies intent.
That Kilic could be deemed a terrorist merely because he used it – which seems like a dubious claim in itself – is outrageous. People in Turkey who wish to protect their privacy can use a VPN to hide their IP addresses, but it’s important to choose ones that haven’t been blocked.
What this case shows, however, is how governments don’t truly get encryption, as well as how laws presented as protecting the people can be used against them.
Here in the UK, we can only hope Amber Rudd is taking notice of this alarming court case and drawing the correct conclusions.”