The Indonesian government has been asking Telegram to remove terrorism-related content from its encrypted chat groups since March 2016 but got a response only after it began to block access to the platform, officials said Monday.
Telegram has now apologized and begun responding to some of its requests, according to a statement released by the Ministry of Communications and Informatics on Monday.
“I have received an email regarding an apology from Pavel Durov, the CEO of Telegram,” Minister of Communications and Informatics Rudiantara said in the statement.
“It appears he was not aware there were several requests from the ministry, since 2016,” he said.
Durov has already taken steps requested by the ministry and proposed communications dedicated for handling radical or pro-terrorist content, Rudiantara added.
“I appreciate the response from Pavel Durov, and the ministry is going to follow up as quickly as possible on the technical details so that a standard operating procedure can soon be implemented,” he said.
The government will restore access to web-based Telegram messaging – which it blocked on Friday – if Telegram meets several conditions, Semuel A. Pangerapan, a director general of the ministry, told a news conference in Jakarta on Monday.
These include opening an office in Indonesia; making the ministry a “trusted flagger” of Telegram accounts or channels containing terrorist propaganda; and involving the ministry in content-filtering efforts.
“When all the conditions we have requested are met by Telegram, then we will unblock it,” Indonesian media outlet Kompas quoted him as saying.
The ministry on Friday announced that it had requested Internet service providers to block 11 domain names used by Telegram after collecting evidence that many channels on the messaging app had been promoting extremist ideologies.
Indonesia’s government had identified 55 channels on Telegram that contain terrorism-related content, including discussion of how to mount attacks, and printed out 17,000 pages of terrorism-related content from Telegram’s web-based channels, officials said.
In addition, almost all individuals convicted of terrorism-related activity between 2015 and July 2017 used the application, Pangerapan said Monday.
“So we can see how massively they use, or misuse, the sophistication of technology. That is why we must take quick, strategic steps to prevent it going forward,” he said.
The ministry took the decision to block Telegram after sending a sixth email expressing its concerns to the company on July 11 and receiving no response by July 13.
It had sent five other emails starting on March 29, 2016 asking the company to clean up radical and terrorism-related content from its channels, but there had been no reply.
In a message posted on Telegram on Sunday, Durov said those channels had now been blocked and the company would take additional steps including setting up a direct line of communication with the Indonesian ministry.
“We are forming a dedicated team of moderators with knowledge of Indonesian culture and language to be able to process reports of terrorist-related content more quickly and accurately,”The Wall Street Journal quoted Durov as saying.
“Telegram is heavily encrypted and privacy-oriented, but we’re no friends of terrorists —in fact, every month we block thousands of ISIS-related public channels,” he said.
Indonesia’s decision to block Telegram was criticized by journalists and human rights activists, who said it had been hastily implemented to counter radicalism without addressing the root of the problem.
On Sunday, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo publically backed the move.
“The government has long observed Telegram and we are a country that prioritizes the safety of our nation, our people,” the Journal quoted him as saying.