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Cameras in Istanbul Taxis Causing Concerns

FILE - Yellow taxis pass people standing in silence during a protest at Taksim Square in Istanbul.
FILE - Yellow taxis pass people standing in silence during a protest at Taksim Square in Istanbul.
Cameras in Istanbul Taxis Causing Concerns
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Cameras are being put in taxis in Turkey's largest city, Istanbul.

Turkish officials say the cameras will provide security for taxi drivers and their passengers. But some people fear the devices are part of a government effort to expand surveillance and control over the population.

They note that more than 60,000 Turkish citizens have been detained since the failure of an attempt to overthrow the government last year. In addition, nearly 200,000 people have been dismissed from their jobs over this period.

Recently, people in Turkey have been hearing announcements advertising the arrival of Istanbul’s new taxis, called Itaxis. The ads say the taxis are equipped with global positioning system equipment to help drivers find the quickest way, at the lowest cost. The vehicles will also have equipment so that riders can pay with credit cards.

However, the Itaxis have one object that is a subject of debate: a large digital camera. When you sit down inside a taxi, the camera is clearly visible. What is unclear is whether it records sound as well as images. It is also unclear where the images go.

One driver who spoke to VOA is happy with the device, although he says he does not know who is watching.

"The new system is what is needed. I had an incident on Sunday night. I was attacked by a customer. If this system had been active, I would have been saved right away or the attacker wouldn't have dared to attack. There is a camera system and a panic button now."

Not everyone in Istanbul agrees that the camera is a good thing. Another person who spoke with VOA questioned the reasoning behind the cameras.

"A witch hunt is happening in Turkey now. So if they use it [the camera] for things like that [surveillance], then of course it's not a good idea to have these kind of things in the cabs."

Nearly every week, Turkey has trials for people suspected of being involved in the failed overthrow attempt.

Last year, some 4,000 people were tried for insulting the president.

Under emergency powers enacted after the overthrow attempt, Turkish officials have introduced new electronic surveillance.

That information comes from Yaman Akdeniz of Bilgi University in Istanbul. He has been studying the rise of surveillance culture. He says there may be good reasons for the concerns over the new taxis.

"Because increasingly people are under surveillance and people don't know what sort of technology or what sorts of things are deployed by the government authorities to monitor the citizens. And it will get worse."

A growing sense of concern is creeping into Turkish society because of surveillance activities. With the campaign against government critics, any new development involving surveillance technology seems likely to be watched with suspicion.

I'm John Russell.

Dorian Jones reported on this story for John Russell adapted his report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

visible – adj. of or relating to something that can be seen

credit card – n. a small plastic card that is used to buy things

surveillance – n. keeping close watch over someone

panic – n. a state or feeling of extreme fear that makes someone unable to act or think normally

witch huntn. the act of punishing people who are accused of having dangerous or evil ideas

introducev. to offer or propose

monitor – v. to watch, observe, listen to, or check (something) for a special purpose over a period of time

creep – v. to appear gradually and in a way that is difficult to notice