Indonesia tightens its censorship grip on the Internet
By Masyitha Baziad March 8, 2016
- 2014 law makes it mandatory for ISPs to block ‘negative’ websites
- Ministerial regulation upheld by Supreme Court without a legislative review
LIKE many of its South-East Asian neighbours, Indonesia is beginning to flex its censorship muscles over Internet content.
Just this year, the Malaysian Government blocked news portals and even the Medium.com blogging platform, citing “offensive content,” while in 2013 Singapore tightened its laws on news portals.
Despite its aspiration to become the biggest digital economy in the region, Indonesia is now drafting legislation that would require foreign Internet companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter to set up offices in the country or be barred from offering their services.
This comes in the wake of the country’s largest telco provider PT Telekomunikasi Indonesia (Telkom) announcing that it was blocking US-based video-streaming service Netflix to “protect Indonesian consumers from unregulated content that does not comply with the country’s film regulations.”
But Indonesia’s tightening grip on the Internet goes back more than a year when in July 2014, the Ministry of Information and Communication, under previous minister Tifatul Sembiring, unveiled a regulation to purportedly “promote safe and healthy use of the Internet.”
Non-governmental organisation (NGO) Freedom House, in its recent Freedom on the Net report, said the objective of the ministerial regulation was to provide a legal procedure for the Government to restrict ‘negative websites,’ with ‘negative’ being defined as containing pornographic or otherwise illegal material under the country’s existing laws.
In November 2014, the regulation was challenged by several NGOs and individuals and brought to the Supreme Court for judicial review, but the Supreme Court upheld the regulation without a legislative review, Freedom House noted.
The ministerial regulation includes provisions for reporting websites with negative content, the mandatory blocking of Internet access to such websites by Internet service providers (ISPs), and procedures to unblock reported websites found not containing negative content.
Government agencies, law enforcers, and the general public can lodge a report with the ministry’s Directorate General of Informatics, requesting a specific site be blocked due to ‘unlawful content.’
The Directorate General will then include the reported website into its Trust Positive list, a government-promoted database system that lists all websites with allegedly negative content.
According to the Ministry of Information and Communication, Trust Positive has 763,126 websites in its blacklist as of 2015, most of them for pornographic content, and others for allegedly promoting radicalism, hate speech, fraud or gambling.
ISPs are required to comply with the ministerial regulation, and to update their database based on the ‘whitelist’ and ‘blacklist’ of websites provided by Trust Positive at least once a week, even in a day if a particular website needs to be taken down immediately.
New York-based video-sharing website Vimeo.com fell victim to this regulation and has been inaccessible in Indonesia since 2014. An official statement form the ministry at the time said it had found several channels and categories on the site that contained pornographic content.
“To protect the country’s Internet users, we will communicate this matter with the operating company to make its pornographic content inaccessible for Indonesian users – if such measures are taken by the company, we will unblock the site,” the ministry said on May 12, 2014.
Current ICT minister Rudiantara (pic) said he had initiated a dialogue with Vimeo chief executive officer [Kerry Trainor] on the issue in November 2014, but the two parties could not come to an agreement, which is why Vimeo is still blocked in the country.
Recently, the ministry wanted to block micro-blogging platform Tumblr.com for the same reason – that is, for carrying pornographic content. However, the minister took a softer approach by sending a self-censorship request letter first.
“Although not all Tumblr accounts have pornographic content, it is not possible to ask ISPs to block each account one by one,” the minister’s spokesperson Ismail Chawidu said in a statement on Feb 17.
“We have asked Tumblr to adjust its content to suit Indonesians … and local regulations,” he added.
Content removal requests, the big stick
In its report, Freedom House said that even though content blocking has become commonplace, “administrative requests to delete or take down content are less common.”
Google’s Indonesia Transparency Report disclosed eight government removal requests, with a total of 90 items removed from January to June 2015. These comprised three removal requests on its YouTube platform; two on Google Docs; two on its search engine; and one listed under the ‘other’ category.
According to Freedom House, the ‘other’ category might refer to pornographic or nude content.
“The Indonesian Government has threatened to withdraw service providers’ licences for failing to implement censorship,” it said in its report.
“In 2011, BlackBerry agreed to filter pornographic websites on its devices in Indonesia after the government regulator warned that the company’s market access could be restricted if it failed to comply,” it added.
Last month, the ministry also instructed over-the-top (OTT) providers to remove lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) related emoticons and stickers from the local market, saying that content providers “need to respect local culture and values.”
“We asked Facebook and WhatsApp to filter their LGBT-related stickers and emoticons. So far, the Line messaging app has removed its stickers, and we hope the other OTTs will follow suit,” Ismail told the media on Feb 12.
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