Rights Groups: Indonesia’s New Internet Regulation Could Stifle Freedoms

Tria Dianti
Jakarta
2021-05-25
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Rights Groups: Indonesia’s New Internet Regulation Could Stifle Freedoms An Indonesian youth browses through his Facebook page at an internet cafe in Jakarta, Tuesday, March 5, 2019.
[AP]

A new regulation that gives Indonesia’s government jurisdiction over online service-providers and platforms has come under fire from internet freedom and human rights advocates, who warn that it will be used to stifle free speech.

The Ministry of Communication and Information Technology says the policy, which requires online platforms to register with the government for content monitoring, aims to protect domestic users and monitor content that violates the law.

Ministerial Regulation 5 affects services such as Facebook, YouTube and Netflix, and is too sweeping, according to Human Rights Watch.

“MR5 is deeply problematic, granting government authorities overly broad powers to regulate online content, access user data, and penalize companies that fail to comply,” HRW said in a statement last week.

The regulation poses serious risks to the privacy, freedom of speech, and access to information of Indonesian internet users, HRW said, as the global rights watchdog group urged the ministry to suspend it.

“Ministerial Regulation 5 is a human rights disaster that will devastate freedom of expression in Indonesia, and should not be used in its current form,” said Linda Lakhdhir, the Asia legal advisor at HRW. 

Semuel Abrijani Pangerapan, director general of applications and informatics at the ministry, said similar laws such as Indonesia’ regulation were also in force in other countries, including in Germany, where violators face hefty fines.

“We learned from Germany about how they regulate content.  So, it is not only in Indonesia,” Semuel told BenarNews.

“The policy is part of the government’s efforts to protect the country and the people of Indonesia.”

The deadline for services to register was May 24, but it has been extended for six months, after which services that fail to comply could be blocked.

So far around 1,000 mostly domestic “private electronic system operators” had registered with the system, Semuel said.

The law regulates blocking the operations of a provider that publishes content which is prohibited in Indonesia. It defines prohibited content as electronic information or data that violates laws, causes public unease, or disrupts public order.

The regulation also applies to foreign providers that offer services within Indonesia, and operate systems that are used or offered in the country, according to international law firm Hogan Lovells.

The law also allows the government to access personal data for the purpose of monitoring and law enforcement.

Under the regulation, digital service providers must remove prohibited content within 24 hours after a notification from the ministry.

They are given four hours to crack down on content that contains child pornography or messages that support terrorism.

Violating human rights

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), an organization that defends civil liberties in the digital world, said that of all similar regulations in other countries, Indonesia’s proposal “is the most invasive of human rights.”

As it is, critics say Indonesia has used hate speech and religious blasphemy laws to silence dissent and target religious minorities. 

Police have also arrested social media users for insulting President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and other top government officials.

In 2019, the government imposed a three-week internet blackout in Papua, home to a separatist insurgency, during deadly rioting and widespread anti-government protests that year.

At the time, the government said it had to act to prevent what it called fake news related to Papua from being spread online.

The Southeast Asian Network for Freedom of Expression (SAFEnet) said the law could curtail freedom of information.

“The right to access information should be guaranteed,” Nenden Sekar Arum, a SAFEnet campaigner, told BenarNews. 

“If one platform cannot operate, we will lose access to information,” Nenden said.

She said SAFEnet was concerned about provisions banning content that could cause “public unease and public order.”

“This is too broad and prone to multiple interpretations and therefore threatens freedom of expression. This could be used by the government to stifle criticism and take down unfavorable content.”

The requirement for services and platforms to have representatives in Indonesia could force them to withdraw from the country, Nenden said.

The other requirement to remove content within four hours will overwhelm small companies with limited staff, Human Rights Watch said.

“The time allocated for response is unrealistically short, particularly for companies that work in multiple time zones, and will impose onerous burdens on smaller companies with limited staff,” the group said.

“Unreasonably short time frames for removing content would most likely lead service providers to pre-emptively take down content to ensure compliance and could force the shutdown of smaller providers that do not have adequate staff available to respond to such requests.”

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