Turkish mobile operator Vodafone shared user data, traffic information, communications, IPs, port numbers and other Internet data about its clients with Turkish authorities, according to a secret document obtained by Nordic Monitor.
The document, dated Feb. 7, 2018 and sent to a Turkish court in Turkey’s northwestern province of Balikesir, explains the company’s policy of sharing the confidential data of users stored on Vodafone servers. Abdurrahman Atasoy, an officer in the company’s public response unit, advised the court that Vodafone would share any information with the court that had been stored over the last two years. He referred the court to Turkey’s communications watchdog, the Information and Communication Technologies Authority (Bilgi Teknolojileri ve İletişim Kurumu or BTK), for data older than that.
Vodafone’s response to the court was part of the court’s communication on Jan. 19, 2018 in case No. 2017/168 that asked the company to provide IP numbers with matching port numbers for the year 2014 and send user information to the court. Atasoy noted that Vodafone started keeping records of IP numbers and port numbers for users in June 2014 but that regulations that were changed on June 11, 2016 required the company to store such data for only the last two years. He suggested that the court revise the letter in line with these requirements and said the BTK could be contacted to obtain older data.
The government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been cracking down on the use of secure digital communications in Turkey on an ever-growing scale and has imprisoned tens of thousands of people for using the ByLock, Tango and Cacao messaging applications and other chat programs. The use of ByLock is deemed sufficient evidence to accuse defendants under anti-terrorism laws. In most cases the matching IP/port numbers on ByLock servers with telecom carriers without any incriminating content is considered evidence of a serious crime in Turkey.
ByLock was released in March 2014 and available for free download on Google Play and other platforms. It was shut down in early 2016. There are many documented cases of people who had never used the application but were put in jail on allegations of downloading ByLock. Many believe the use of ByLock was just a pretext created by the Turkish intelligence agency to target government critics including members of the Gülen movement, a vocal opposition group.
The Turkish government’s abuse of private digital communications has been highlighted in UN reports. David Kaye, the UN Freedom of Opinion and Expression special rapporteur, described the practice as the “criminalization of encryption” in a report released at a special session on Turkey during a UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva in 2017. The unlawful arrest of and pre-trial detention of Swedish IT consultant Ali Gharavi and non-violence and well-being trainer Peter Steudtner in 2017 while they were providing training for Turkish human rights defenders on secure communications was also seen as part of this crackdown on secure communications.
In December 2017 the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office stated that 11,480 GSM users were found to have been involuntarily directed to mobile phone application ByLock. Dutch cyber security firm Fox-IT said on Sept. 13 that it had debunked a report by Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT) on the ByLock smartphone application as it discovered inconsistencies and manipulation. In a statement on its website Fox-IT said the quality of the MİT report on ByLock was very low, especially when weighed against the legal consequences of the report, which was the basis of detention for 75,000 Turkish citizens.